10 June 2012

Northern Marianas Retains constitutional land ownership provisions

CNMI Senate Kills Native Land Ownership Ballot Initiative

Lawmakers leave room for amending portions of Article 12

By Haidee V. Eugenio
Saipan Tribune

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Senate overwhelmingly killed...a legislative initiative that would have placed the question of Article 12 on the Nov. 6 ballot, with only one of eight present senators voting "yes."

Article 12 of the NMI Constitution restricts land ownership in the CNMI only to persons of Northern Marianas descent, or NMDs.

Of the eight senators present during the re-scheduled session, only Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), the author of Senate Legislative Initiative 17-10, voted "yes."

Five voted "no," one abstained and one voted "present." One senator was absent.

The five who voted "no" were Sens. Henry San Nicolas (Cov-Tinian), Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota), Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota), and Luis Crisostimo (Ind-Saipan).

Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) abstained, while Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan) voted "present." Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) is on medical leave.

Before voting, senators took turns making their case in voting against the repeal of Article 12 in its entirety. They said, however, that they're open to the idea of making amendments to some of its provisions.

Manglona later told Saipan Tribune he's surprised with the result.

One senator said the result is not a rebuke to the initiative's author, but because they felt retaining Article 12 would do more good than harm.

Observers on Capital Hill said yesterday that the defeat of SLI 17-10 only goes to show that any legislative initiative to change Article 12 will not pass the Legislature.

Passage of a legislative initiative by the Senate and House does not mean repealing or retaining Article 12, but will only ensure that the question would be placed on the ballot.

Just the same, senators opposed to SLI 17-10 said they do not want Article 12 abolished.

San Nicolas, in an interview after the session, said he believes Article 12 should be retained to protect future generations.

"As a parent, I feel that Article 12 will protect the future generations. Unlike other countries with big lands, the CNMI only has small islands. If we allow non-NMDs to buy, we might just be like Hawaii and Guam where I think the locals don't have land in their own land," he said.

San Nicolas said there are other ways to improve the economy, if only elected leaders work together to implement plans.

Torres, for his part, said he supports only amending some portions of Article 12 but not abolishing it in its entirety. He said he is open to amending the blood quantum provision and addressing concerns about adoption.

"I am protecting the future generations because land does not grow," he later told Saipan Tribune.

This was the same sentiment that Ayuyu raised during the session. Ayuyu said there is a need to balance concerns about Article 12 of the Constitution and the law on adoption.

Under Article 12, an individual with less than 25 percent NMD blood won't be able to own land in the CNMI. However, an adopted minor child with no NMD blood at all-a child from China or the Philippines, for example-is considered 100 percent NMD.

"A .10 percent NMD blood versus adopted child. For me, it's not right.My decision is to balance it," said Ayuyu, adding that he supports amending Article 12 but not abolishing it.

Taimanao and Crisostimo separately said they support instead a pending legislative initiative to extend the existing 55-year lease to 99 years, to help grow the economy. Crisostimo is author of such initiative.

A House legislative initiative pending in the Senate seeks to change the 25 percent or one-quarter 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. Some senators said they are more open to approving it.

Popular initiative

While a legislative initiative to place Article 12 on the ballot is dead at least for now, there is still a "popular initiative" to place it on the ballot.

The Citizens for Change of Article 12, or CCART 12 led by chair Efrain F. Camacho, continues to gather voters' signatures to be placed on the ballot.

CCART 12 is currently circulating a petition to have the question placed on the ballot during the midterm election for the public to vote whether to retain Article 12 or repeal it.

But the group's end goal is to have Article 12 abolished or repealed in its entirety, saying that instead of protecting NMDs, it is disenfranchising them, among other things.

The group still has lots of signatures to gather to meet their target of at least 8,000 signatures, just to be on the safe side.

CCART 12 said it's only a misconception that NMDs will lose their culture or NMDs will become landless if Article 12 is repealed.

"NMDs are already becoming landless as sales are rampant due to poor economic conditions," they said.

They added that current NMDs are already losing their land because of the blood quantum requirement. They said future generations will lose their right to own or inherit land from their parents if blood quantum continues to be diluted.

Many NMDs are marrying outside the Chamorro/Carolinian bloodline. Several NMDs are now only 25 percent NMD and most likely will be marrying non-NMDs.

"So how is Article 12 protecting an NMD that is less than 25 percent bloodline?" they asked.

CCART12 said it's a misconception that few NMDs will get rich.

"Now, only few buyers can control sale price. Repeal of Article 12 will pass value directly to owner," they said.

Diego Blanco, who strongly supports retaining Article 12, separately said yesterday that "Article 12 was established to protect NMDs now and in the future."

"Why would anyone want to remove that protection? What is wrong about protecting NMDs?" he asked.

Section 805 of the Covenant allows the CNMI to revisit its land alienation restrictions 25 years after the termination of the Trusteeship Agreement in 1986. That 25-year period ended in 2011.

The Covenant established the political relationship between the United States and the Northern Marianas.