CNMI Senate To Discuss Indigenous Land Ownership Provisions

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Amendment, abolishment considered for native land control rules

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 1, 2012) – The Senate is poised to act today on a committee report recommending that the full Senate decide on a legislative initiative to propose a constitutional amendment for Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) voters to retain or repeal the land alienation provision of the NMI Constitution, even as a non-profit group has already initiated a popular initiative petition to place the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Senate Legislative Initiative 17-10, introduced by Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), seeks to abolish Article 12 in its entirety.

The Senate will hold a session on Rota today, and the committee report on SLI 17-10 is on the agenda. The Senate and House need to pass the initiative so that it will be placed in the Nov. 6 ballot for voters' ratification.

SLI 17-10 is just one of the pending initiatives seeking to tinker with Article 12.

Article 12 limits land ownership in the CNMI only to persons of Northern Marianas descent.

Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), chairman of the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs, and the rest of the panel members, said the public hearings held on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota on SLI 17-10 drew different views. They said some testified for SLI 17-10's passage to abolish Article 12 in its entirety, while others only want to amend it.

The committee said those who testified conveyed concern over the blood-quantum requirement under Article 12. Others justified the need to allow foreigners to own property in the CNMI without barriers such as Article 12.

"Considering the testimonies at the various public hearings and the concerns expressed by those present, the Committee finds that it is in the best interest of the people and the CNMI to decide on the issue and ask that the people further educate themselves regarding Article 12, its history, intent and the future of their ancestral lands," the five-member committee said.

The Citizens for Change of Article 12, led by Efrain Camacho, has already launched a signature drive to place the question of Article 12 on the ballot. This group seeks to abolish Article 12 in its entirety.

Camacho and other CCART 12 members said that lawmakers have yet to pass any legislative initiative to place Article 12 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Attorney General Edward Buckingham issued Thursday a legal opinion that says persons who are not of Northern Marianas descent may sign a popular initiative petition proposing to amend Article 12 provided they are qualified and registered to vote in the CNMI.

House Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan) also introduced House Legislative Initiative 17-3, House Draft 1, to change the 25 percent or one-quarter blood quantum requirement to only "at least some degree" of Chamorro or Carolinian blood or a combination of these, in order to be considered a person of Northern Marianas descent. This passed the House and is now with the Senate.

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