Voters Should Decide CNMI’s Political Status: Lawmaker

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Tony Sablan not in favor of proposed investigative commission

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 7, 2014) – Instead of forming a $100,000 commission to find out whether people still want to maintain the CNMI’s political relationship with the United States under the Covenant, "why not ask the voters directly through an initiative and move from there?" according to Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan).

"They are doing it backwards," Sablan told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

If most voters are satisfied with the CNMI-U.S. relationship, "then we give it a rest."

This saves the CNMI time, effort, and what Sablan describes as a "conservative" amount of $100,000 to fund a commission and hire people for the commission.

"If most of the voters are not satisfied, then that’s the time you create a commission to see what kind of other relationship they want," Sablan added.

Sablan, a former CNMI immigration director, was one of only three House members who voted against the 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.

The other two were Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) and vice speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan).

Gov. Eloy S. Inos had cautioned 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."

The governor instead suggests that Covenant Section 902 negotiation is the right way to go about it.

"We’re in for the long haul," Inos said of the relationship between the CNMI and the United States, although he acknowledges some members of the Legislature and some community members’ "frustrations" with the U.S. But he said the CNMI needs to be "smarter" in approaching the issues.

[PIR editor’s note: Meanwhile, the Marianas Variety reports that Reps. Ramon A. Tebuteb and Ralph Yumul separately defended the creation of a second commission. Tebuteb, for his part, said putting political status discussions will "tell us where we have gone wrong" and allow examination of the issues from a Marianas-based perspective. Yumul said voting in support of the commission does not mean he questions the CNMI's political status in itself, but local leaders need to talk to federal authorities to "determine where we are going."]

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

Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) separately said yesterday that the bill will undergo committee review first.

No action on the bill is expected in the next Senate session unless a committee report is completed before then.

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.

[PIR editor’s note: The Marianas Variety reports that former speaker Pedro R. Deleon Guerrero says he favors the creation of a second political status commission, adding that the first such commission moved "very fast" and did not educate people about provisions, as they "did not know they were giving up their sovereign rights to the U.S."]

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