NATIVE LAND OWNERSHIP LAW TALKS RENEWED IN CNMI

admin's picture

Constitutional restriction reconsidered in changing times

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 3, 2012) – Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas’ (CNMI) Indigenous Affairs Office resident executive Ignacio "Ike" Demapan, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), and others are supporting a signature campaign to put the question on Article 12 in the Nov. 6 ballot-albeit for different reasons.

Article 12 of the NMI Constitution restricts ownership of land to persons of Northern Marianas descent (NMD).

The Citizens for Change of Article 12, led by its chairman, Efrain F. Camacho, launched the signature campaign on Friday. The group's ultimate goal is to have Article 12 repealed in its entirety to ensure fairness and equality in landownership among NMDs and their descendants and help grow the economy, among other things.

Demapan said people may have the notion that as Indigenous Affairs Office resident executive, he is entirely opposed to the repeal of Article 12, but this is not the case.

"It's time to be more realistic and practical," Demapan told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

He, however, said he used to support retaining Article 12 "but times have changed," considering that the CNMI is now in "terrible" economic situation.

"We should look at ways to have better lives. At this time I'd like to see if it's going to help private landowners. I will sign the petition to have it in the ballot so that majority of the CNMI people will dictate what they want with Article 12," he said, sharing these statements both as Indigenous Affairs resident executive and as a private person.

He said Article 12 has created division and putting the question in the ballot will help end that division so that people can move on.

"Even if Article 12 is repealed, [NMDs] can still lease [land] and not sell it," said Demapan, whose own daughter married a non-NMD whose child only has a 50-percent NMD blood based on Article 12 restrictions on landownership.

The children of that particular child will only have 25 percent NMD blood and that child's children will not have the right to own land in the CNMI, despite his or her indigenous roots.

Others like former House speaker Pedro Deleon Guerrero, a strong advocate for the retention of Article 12, wishes the Citizens for Change of Article 12 "good luck" in getting as many signatures as possible to directly put the question before voters in the midterm polls.

"I wish them good luck. But for those people who don't support the repeal of Article 12, they don't have to sign the petition," Deleon Guerrero said.

But CCA12's Camacho pointed out that the signature drive is only a petition to get Article 12 on the November ballot, so the group urges voters to sign the petition.

"By signing the petition, you are not voting ’yes’ or ’no’ [to the repeal or retention]. You are only voting to have it [on] the ballot," Camacho said.

CCA12 wants to gather some 3,000 voters' signatures to have Article 12 question placed on the ballot.

The initiative's title is "To propose a constitutional amendment for the people of the Northern Mariana Islands to vote to repeal Article."

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial "agrees that this is an opportune time to put the matter of Article 12 on the ballot," said press secretary Angel Demapan said

"There has been increased dialogue in the community between citizens who support it and those who oppose it. Thus, getting it on the ballot would provide our leaders with a basis to gauge how our citizens feel about this issue," the press secretary said.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) separately said he's in full support of the signature campaign "because I want the people to decide on it."

"I firmly believe that this is going to be a big boost to the economy. We used to have a vibrant economy but times have changed. Investors with leases now have maybe 13 to 15 years left on their leases and the only way we can ask them to move forward with their development plans is if they see an opportunity to extend their lease or renegotiate the lease to fee simple," Manglona said.

The Senate president said: "Governor Fitial's proposal to sell public lands fee simple is not the same as repealing Article 12."

"Many people are asking, why should the government sell public lands when private landowners are not allowed? I believe people are now more sophisticated and are more aware of the value of their land and ready to decide to repeal or retain Article 12," he said.

The Senate president said he will be a "champion of this initiative."

Rep. Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan), for his part, said he doesn't support Article 12's repeal.

"I don't want to sign something I don't support but if it does go to the ballot, we leave it up to the people to decide. Once it gets to the ballot, I will vote 'no' to repeal," he said.

Palacios said when the CNMI economy was booming, nobody questioned Article 12. He said he believes "everything changed" after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks or because of security threats.

He said he'd rather support the proposal to reduce the NMD blood requirement from 25 percent to at least 1 percent to be able to own land in the CNMI.

"As long as you can trace your bloodline to a Chamorro or Carolinian, then you can own land," he said.

House minority leader Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said he signed the petition yesterday so that it will be placed before voters in the election.

"Article 12 has served its purpose. I hope this will stimulate more discussion on the pros and cons of repealing or retaining Article 12," he said.

CCA12 core members Camacho, treasurer David M. Sablan, and former representative Diego Benavente said they decided to pursue a popular initiative because all of the legislative initiatives to repeal Article 12 have not been approved and are not likely to be approved by both houses of the Legislature.

Section 805 of the Covenant allows the CNMI to revisit its land alienation restrictions 25 years after the termination of the Trusteeship Agreement in 1986. That 25-year period ended in 2011, just in time for this year’s midterm polls to be able to ask voters.

Those who wish to sign the petition are asked to contact any of the CCA12 core members: chair Camacho at 322-7814 or 483-7814; treasurer David Sablan at 235-0560 Ext. 109, former representative Diego Benavente at 483-5848, vice chair Vince Seman; secretary and former senator Frica Pangelinan, Alex Sablan, Jay Santos, Maggie Sablan, Cathy Cepeda, John DelRosario and Jesus Elameto.

The group will also be distributing copies of the initiative and signature sheets for people who want to help gather signatures on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, as well as in U.S. states where there are major concentrations of NMDs from the CNMI.

For years now, CCA12 has been stimulating discussions to help ensure that many would know more about Article 12 instead of only its "supposed protection of Northern Marianas descent."

"If you look closely at the provisions, they are working against a lot of NMDs and as time progresses, there will be more dilution of blood because of mixed marriages. The 25 percent blood quantum will soon be lower than 25 percent so those [persons] will be without right to own fee simple land in the Northern Mariana Islands. So you ask yourself, is Article 12 then protecting NMDs?" Camacho asked.

Another signature drive has been launched to put the question of whether Saipan voters would like to legalize casino gaming on Saipan.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment