NMI Community Members React To Military Plans For Pagan

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Former official: Covenant recognizes scarcity of land in CNMI

By Junhan B. Todeno

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 1, 2013) – Unlike Tinian, Tanapag, or Farallon de Medinilla, Pagan is not a military ‘trophy" pursuant to the Covenant, according to former Northern Marianas Representative William S. Torres.

"The people of the Northern Islands and their beneficiaries have a lot to say on the planned militarization of Pagan than is ordinarily thought of by most people who want to think or want to believe they do not, especially those who have not resided there or those who have not visited the northern frontier, or for that matter, those who are strangers and do not care about the residents or the pristine ecological system in the Northern Islands," said Torres, one of the advocates for the Northern Islands redevelopment and resettlement program.

Torres was one of the speakers during the third information and education meeting conducted by the Northern Islands Mayor’s Office for former residents of the "northern frontiers."

Other speakers during the meeting held at Upper Miha were Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro, Northern Marianas Descent Group vice chairman Frank Rogopes, Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council member Diego Kaipat and Northern Islands mayor’s program manager Jerome Aldan.

Torres said he was asked to speak on the issue of eminent domain as outlined in Section 806 of the Covenant.

He contrasted the concept of eminent domain in the Covenant to the presidential authority found in the U.S. Antiquities Act which was leveraged in establishing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument to cover the vast open waters from the Northern Islands down south to Saipan, Tinian and Rota and extending as far south as Guam.

He said, unlike the authority arrested under the Antiquities Act and contrary to popular belief, Covenant Section 806 cannot be exercised at the whim of the military.

There are conditions and requirements that the U.S must meet, he added.

Torres said Covenant section 806(a) states: "The United States will continue to recognize and respect the scarcity and special importance of land in the Northern Mariana Islands."

Paragraph (b) states: "No interest in real property will be acquired unless duly authorized by the Congress of the United States and appropriations are available therefor."

Covenant Section 806(c) states: "The power of eminent domain will be exercised within the Commonwealth only to the extent necessary and in compliance with applicable United States laws, and with full recognition of the due process required by the United States Constitution."

For her part, Ogumoro said the "beauty of our culture will be greatly affected" if the military conducts live-fire training on the volcanic island of Pagan.

Rogopes spoke of growing up on Agrigan where he was born. He said he was concerned that the military was always taking land and soon there will be nothing left for the people of the CNMI.

He said the military already "got" Farallon, the Marine Monument, Asuncion and soon residents will be left with Sariguan and Anatahan only. He noted that there are already restrictions on Anatahan.

He is opposed to the military takeover of Pagan and is hoping that CNMI leaders will exercise prudence in their negotiations with the military.

"No amount of money can replace the beauty of Pagan once it’s destroyed and turned it into a military playground," he said.

Kaipat talked about his meeting with the Military Integration Members Council and urged residents to submit their comments on the military proposal on time "because the military does not care about our feelings, they are only going to look at the comments and base their report on that."

Aldan said the main focus of their meeting last week was to get the residents together and get the comments on record so they can mail them to the military before the May 13 deadline.

He said residents were provided with copies of the comment form downloaded from the military website.

"As part of the efforts of the Northern Islands mayor’s office to ensure that the people of the Northern Islands understand the issues that are at stake, we also provided them with a bulleted chronology of the history of Pagan and the Northern Islands," he said.

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