CNMI Senate Considering Amendments To Blood Quantum Laws

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Demographic changes prompt review of land ownership rules

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 5, 2012) – Senators are poised to act on a Senate-amended House legislative initiative that changes the 25 percent 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 (NMD) and therefore can own land in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said yesterday that the Senate also incorporates in House Legislative Initiative 17-3, House Draft 1 the increase in the maximum 55-year private land lease to 99 years, changing the definition of NMD corporation, and in ensuring that an adopted child will not necessarily be considered 100 percent NMD.

"Yes, the Senate will act on this initiative. I just wish we could have had people to decide on the repeal of Article 12. I guess changing the blood quantum requirement is the next best thing to a repealer," Manglona told Saipan Tribune.

Article 12 of the NMI Constitution restricts landownership to persons of Northern Marianas descent or NMDs.

As it is now, future generations of Chamorro and Carolinian families may not be able to own land because they fall below the 25 percent blood quantum requirement, an "unfair" requirement to many in the community who want to pass on their property to their descendants.

The Senate killed last month Manglona's legislative initiative that would have asked voters whether they want Article 12 repealed or retained. Senators who voted against it said they don't want to repeal Article 12 in its entirety but only some portions of it, including the blood quantum requirement.

The Senate will be rescheduling for next week its session set for Wednesday.

Manglona said the Senate has placed the initiative on calendar even before the Citizens for Change of Article 12 announced that they are now looking at placing the question of Article 12 on the November 2014 general election ballot, and not on the Nov. 6 midterm election ballot.

Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said HLI 17-3 has been with a Senate committee "for quite a while now."

"If they want the people to make an educated decision on the issue of Article 12 and blood quantum, they should pass that initiative now so that it will be placed on the ballot and the Election Commission will be prepared to conduct public education on it," Deleon Guerrero said.

Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) separately said he "strongly urges the Senate to pass" the initiative on blood quantum.

Former speaker Pedro Deleon Guerrero said Article 12 should not be repealed in its entirety, but its blood quantum requirement should be amended. He said he himself has a child that married a non-NMD, so the blood percentage of their children would decrease and they may not be able to own land if they fall below the 25 percent blood requirement.

"I have a good feeling that it will pass the Senate. It's a reasonable amendment to Article 12," he said.

Both supporters and opponents of a repeal of Article 12 use the phrase "for the protection of NMDs" to argue their point.

The Citizens for Change of Article 12 said that current NMDs are already losing their land because of the blood quantum requirement, and future generations will lose their right to own or inherit land from their parents if blood quantum continues to be diluted.

"So how is Article 12 protecting an NMD that is less than 25 percent bloodline?" CCART 12 asked, referring to many NMDs marrying outside the Chamorro/Carolinian bloodline and whose children will not be able to own lands passed on to them by their parents and ancestors.

Casino initiative

Proponents of a popular initiative seeking to legalize casino gambling on Saipan are also having difficulty gathering signatures to place the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Dr. Jack Angello said they have so far gathered some 1,000 signatures, which is still far from the required 2,500 or so signatures from Saipan voters.

Angello said they will be submitting the signatures to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on Thursday, a day before the June 8 deadline. That's because June 8 is an austerity Friday.

He said the group would have the exact number of signatures today when their supporters turn in their signature packets.

Angello said they will be gathering signatures for the casino petition again tomorrow, Tuesday, at 5pm at the Carolinian Utt in Garapan.

"If people are really concerned about the economy, I hope they support and sign the petition. I hope people see that it's now crunch time," he said.

Angello said they are not giving up hope that the casino petition will gather more signatures between now and Thursday.

June 8 deadline

The Office of the Attorney General said that the deadline for submitting a petition to propose an amendment to the Constitution to the attorney general is 150 days before the general election.

"This year, the general election is on Nov. 6; 150 days before that date is Saturday, June 9. If the normal deadline falls on a Saturday, then the deadline is the immediately preceding business day. NMIAC § 50-50-601. Thus, a petition to propose an amendment to the Constitution must be submitted to the attorney general on or before Friday, June 8, 2012," said assistant attorney general Teresita Sablan in a response letter to resident Ruth Tighe.

But because June 8 is a Friday and most government offices are closed on that day because of austerity, proponents of the Saipan casino initiative will submit the signatures on Thursday.

The attorney general has 30 days to determine how many valid signatures the petition contains and to provide notice to the submitting party of his determination, the OAG said.

If the petition has a sufficient number of signatures to satisfy the constitutional requirements but the attorney general is unable to certify a sufficient number of the signatures, the submitting party shall have an additional 10 days to submit additional signatures to support the petition, the OAG said.

If the petition does not have a sufficient number of signatures to satisfy the constitutional requirements, however, the submitting party shall not have any additional time to submit supporting signatures, the office said.

Moreover, if the submitting party is given additional time to submit additional signatures, the NMIAC does not set a time frame in which the attorney general must certify the additional signatures, the OAG said.

However, the attorney general must submit a written certification to the Commonwealth Election Commission, indicating whether the petition meets the constitutional requirements at least 90 days before the general election.

"Thus, if a submitting party is given additional time to gather signatures, the attorney general must certify the additional signatures by Aug. 8, 2012," the OAG added.

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