Northern Marianas Descent Corp Seeks Government Support To Appeal Court Ruling

Decision that voting restrictions are unconstitutional threatens indigenous population of CNMI

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 3, 2017) – The Northern Marianas Descent Corp. is seeking CNMI government support to contest the U.S. court ruling on former Marianas High School teacher John H. Davis’ discrimination lawsuit against the Commonwealth Election Commission.

Headed by the lt. governor’s chief of staff, John “Bolis” D. Gonzales, NMDC has filed petitions to intervene in the case and seek a rehearing en banc or by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In Dec. 2016, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the District Court for NMI’s ruling in May 2014 that that the local constitutional restriction on voting violates the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

According to NMDC, “In an effort to present our profound reactions to this issue, NMDC members consider that it is vitally important to inform our government about this compelling issue and seek its support.”

They also noted the “lack of action” by the Attorney General’s Office which “decided not to challenge the ruling.”

Three days after filing the two petitions with the U.S. appellate court, the NMDC met with Gov. Ralph Torres to discuss the matter. The group’s lawyer, Joseph Horey, informed the governor of the filing of the petitions.

The NMDC officials said Torres “fully supported” their decision to file the petitions.

Speaker Ralph S. Demapan and Rep. Alice S.Igitol, for their part, joined the NMDC during the election of its new set of officers.

Aside from Gonzales, the other newly elected officers are Daniel O. Quitugua, vice president; Les Ogumorro-Uldong, secretary; and Frank Tomokane , treasurer. They also elected former Sen. Juan S. Torres, former Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro and Tyrone P. Kileleman as board members.

In a press conference on Tuesday, the officers reiterated that NMDC “continues to advocate and speak out on any and all decisions adversely affecting the lives of the CNMI indigenous populations, especially when such decisions threaten their survival and infringe upon their cultural, traditional, customary and constitutional interests.”

They added, “As the indigenous population continues to evolve, the economic dynamics of our islands broaden, and a growing influx of foreign visitors enter our boarders, social configurations and cultural practices will invariably be adversely affected.”

They said “it is no longer enough just to be vigilant of cultural purposes because the CNMI constitutional provisions designed to protect NMD interests and thought to be unchallengeable are now at risk of being diluted as demonstrated in the recent court case.”

According to NMDC, “We must be forcefully engaged and assertively speak out against forces that would do irreparable cultural harm within the community. The cultural survival of the indigenous populations is too important to leave in the hands of people who have no vested interest in their protection because there are so many compelling forces at play. It is up to NMD themselves to fight for their own continued existence and validation.”

Represented by attorney Jeanne H. Rayphand, Davis filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth Election Commission following the enactment on April 21, 2011 of Public Law 17-40 which established a Northern Marianas Descent or NMD Registry to enforce Article XVIII, Section 5(c) of the CNMI Constitution.

The law mandated the election body to issue NMD identification cards exclusively to NMDs. No one was to vote on any proposed constitutional amendment involving Article XII without this identification card.

Article XII, which the Ninth Circuit upheld in a 1990 ruling, states that only persons of Northern Marianas descent can own and buy land in the CNMI.

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