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Fitial, Calvo in talks over reunification

By Mark Rabago SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 19, 2011) - Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Gov. Benigno R. Fitial made a surprise announcement when he told members of a subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C. that he and Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo are in serious discussions about reuniting the Marianas.

Back home, local leaders had mixed reactions to the governor's seemingly out of the blue pronouncement during Friday's public hearing on Public Law 110-229 or the 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan's H.R. 1466.

"Gov. Calvo and I have pledged to work together to reunify the Marianas. I need your support [talking to Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo] also to allow the CNMI to participate in some economic opportunities that are currently prohibited in the Marianas," Fitial told the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs.

Acting Eloy S. Inos said he believes Fitial's pronouncement was his personal view. As for himself, he said he would like to study the reunification issue in greater detail before commenting on it.

"At this point little has been said about the benefits, the pros and cons and so forth, and we need to educate our people. Sure the governor expressed his views and those are his personal views, for the moment. For this thing to ever come to pass by way of official situation it would have to be decided on by the people," Inos said in an interview with the Saipan Tribune.

At the same time, Inos believes before a referendum is conducted on the issue, an extensive public education effort should first be done not only in the CNMI but in Guam as well.

"It should be decided by the people and it was once decided. But it's not to say that we should not revisit the issue. We're revisiting it and I believe there is resolution at the House of Representatives that allows for that. There's also a bill or resolution in the Guam legislature. So we're moving," he said.

While the Northern Marianas voted for reunification in a referendum on Nov. 4, 1969, Guam voters rejected the proposal.

This early though, Inos said one advantage of a united Marianas is the islands having a stronger voice politically before a bigger institution like the federal government.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Rep-Saipan), meanwhile, said he is always in favor of reunification.

"After all we're one people and unfortunately history divided us. We all have the same culture, our religion over the centuries has pulled us together, and I hope that one day we can all come together because we're actually one people," he said.

The Senate president said he's not at all worried that reunification with Guam will result in the CNMI becoming a minority in such a union.

"It's the same [thing that's] going on in the Northern Marianas. I believe we can find a system that can work. The main thing is we're one people and I think we will have a bigger voice. You have to look at things for the long term like for generations to come. I know that one day we can all come together," Manglona said.

House Speaker Eli D. Cabrera (Rep-Saipan) said talks of a CNMI-Guam reunification should be preceded by a roundtable discussion were the advantages and disadvantages of such a setup would be thoroughly examined.

"There's nothing wrong with a dialogue. We voted for and they voted against [it] in 1969. But that's the past already. There's nothing wrong with a discussion and if they agree or they don't agree, at least we closed the discussion," said Cabrera. "We're the same islands. We're the same people. A lot of our people moved to Guam and we want them to be treated fairly. We have to remove all this ill-feelings. Nothing wrong with an open discussion."

A recent survey conducted by students of Northern Marianas College (NMC) found that majority of respondents on Saipan are against reunifying with Guam, while most of those surveyed on Rota support it.

The results of the study, conducted by the NMC Marianas Reunification Survey Group, showed that, of the 835 surveyed on the two islands, 439 were opposed to reunification with the U.S. territory. This is 52 percent of total respondents. Those in favor of unification totaled 396 or 48 percent of those surveyed. Majority of respondents were Chamorros.

Many of the respondents believe that reunification will mean that CNMI residents will become the minority and Guam has more to gain than the Northern Marianas. Respondents are also convinced that Guam is pushing for reunification because the U.S. territory want some of the political freedom the CNMI currently enjoys with its relationship with the U.S.

The 48 percent who voted in favor of the idea believe that reunification is good for the economy and will help boost declining tourism industry in the Commonwealth. In addition, they said reunification will bring one single entity for both Guam and the CNMI.

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