CNMI Governor Adopts Cautious Approach To U.S. Relations

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Inos calls for negotiations under Covenant Section 902

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 6, 2014) – Gov. Eloy S. Inos is cautioning against a "shotgun approach" to raising issues with the United States over immigration and military plans to use more islands for live-fire training, saying that changing the CNMI’s political relationship with the most powerful country in the world is "a long shot." Instead, he suggests that Covenant Section 902 negotiation is the right way to go about it.

This comes on the heels of the House of Representatives’ passage of a bill creating a Second Marianas Political Status Commission that would examine "whether the people desire continuing in a political union" with the U.S. under the Covenant signed almost 38 years ago.

"We’re in for the long haul," Inos said of the relationship between the CNMI and the United States.

The political status commission bill is now with the CNMI Senate.

Inos acknowledges some members of the Legislature and some community members’ "frustrations" with the United States, but he said the CNMI needs to be "smarter" in approaching the issues.

Without saying whether he supports or opposes the bill, the governor said he is "basically questioning the wisdom" of the measure. Moreover, the governor said he himself has issues with the U.S. but that is why conversations are continuing, including over military plans for some of the islands.

Inos said that when the Covenant was negotiated and signed, it was a new relationship and an untested territory that people are now just beginning to see the effects "and so that’s why we have a provision in the Covenant where we can sit down and negotiate or discuss these areas of concern."

The governor was referring to Section 902 discussions wherein the U.S. president and the CNMI governor each appoint their representatives to discuss issues of concerns. Either party can initiate the talks.

"That part is easy," Inos said of appointing representatives. "Identifying the issues that are germane to a 902-type consultation is the [main] thing." He said some issues could be addressed administratively rather than through 902 talks.

Inos also said 902 talks are costly. But more importantly, "we just don’t know how the U.S. would react."

Besides initiating 902 talks, bringing concerns to the attention of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) is another avenue to get America’s attention, he said.

Just like other territories with much bigger populations, the CNMI has a nonvoting delegate to Congress.

"I think we just need to be smarter in addressing our issues, pick the right issues, the right battle for that, and we should go in… Don’t do gunshot approach… That’s one of the mistakes we usually make here; we do a shotgun approach and then in the end we lose all of them. All we need is to pick a winning issue, go for it and bat it out," he added.

He said some people have to think twice before wanting to change the CNMI’s relationship with the United States or de-link from America because that also means giving up their U.S. citizenship.

He pointed out this is not the first time the issue of creating a Second Political Status Commission has come up in the Legislature.

"I know in previous legislatures they filed that kind of bill. Many times I believe it’s probably out of frustration with many of the issues. But this is who we are and we just have to work harder and smarter," he added.

On March 24 this year, the Northern Marianas will mark its 38-year political relationship with the United States. U.S. President Gerald Ford signed on March 24, 1976, a joint congressional resolution approving a mutually negotiated "Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States." That paved the way for Northern Marianas residents to become U.S. citizens.

Weeks ago, on Dec. 19, the CNMI House voted to pass the bill and move the political status commission bill to the Senate.

Of the 18 House members present, 15 voted "yes" and three voted "no."

The three who voted "no" and actively participated in the healthy debate were House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), vice speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan), and Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan). Absent were the bill’s author, Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), and Rep. Teresita Santos (R-Rota).

The debate centered on the CNMI’s political relationship with the United States and federal control over local minimum wage, immigration, and certain areas for military uses.

This also came weeks after a majority of the CNMI House members voted to adopt a resolution opposing a pathway to improved immigration status for thousands of long-term, legal aliens in the CNMI as contained in two U.S. Senate and U.S. House sweeping immigration reform bills. S. 744 and H.R. 15 both grant pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented aliens in America.

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