CNMI PERSPECTIVES

Now is our turn to protect our islands

The U.S. military plans to turn our islands into bombing ranges. They’ve been planning it for years. We see them coming and going—they stay in the best hotels, rent nice cars, and eat in the best restaurants. They and their highly paid consultants charter boats and helicopters, hire local guides and head out to the Northern Islands to see what we’ve got—to decide what they’re going to take. They’ll ask us first, and if we say no, they’ll just use eminent domain to take what they want anyway. There is no question in their minds about that.

Or is there? Do they really believe that it is going to go that way? I wonder.

When they’re back on Saipan after a long day of inventorying our islands, deciding what they want, after they’ve had a massage and a drink by the pool and headed up to their rooms, when their head hits the feather pillow and they exhale loudly and begin to drop off to sleep, I wonder if there isn’t a nagging little voice that whispers…just at that moment when consciousness is receding…”What about Congress?”

Yes, there is a fly in the ointment.

The military’s problem lies with the Covenant Agreement. It clearly states that the federal government cannot exercise eminent domain to take CNMI land unless it is duly authorized by the United States Congress. This means that the military has to convince Congress that forcibly taking two of the four major islands of an American Commonwealth, whose economy is based on tourism, and using them for bombing ranges is a good idea. They have to convince Congress to disregard the expressed opposition of the governor, the lieutenant governor, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the mayors of Tinian and the Northern Islands, the Municipal Councils, the business leaders, the cultural leaders and pretty much everyone else living here.

Congress isn’t going to be easily convinced. It was Congress that enacted both the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These Acts, designed to protect the nation’s historical and natural resources, are forcing the military to endure Section 106 Review (NHPA) and to provide environmental assessments and impact statements (NEPA) that all stakeholders can review for accuracy, completeness, and then comment upon. These requirements make it difficult for the military to hide the facts that their bombing will destroy historic and cultural treasures, cause catastrophic damage to the environment, waste our precious natural resources, and deny us our right to move freely between our islands. They are revealing the immediate and long-term threat these activities represent to our health and wellbeing.

The military faces a serious uphill battle. It is an interesting battle in that the hill is getting steeper by the minute as the public wakes to the danger. The military didn’t expect this. They didn’t think we would fight. They didn’t think we knew how.

There is frowning and stern faces at the hotel poolside these days. But on our faces are more smiles than frowns. We are coming together as a community. We’re fighting back. We are becoming acutely aware of our own power—the power that comes from clarity, purpose, and being on the side of what is clearly right. This is probably how Londoners felt during the London Blitz. Fear gave way to courage. They stood up to the Germans. They had resolve. They refused to give in. The Nazis had the most powerful army the world had ever seen. They literally threw everything they had at the Londoners, showering the city with bombs and rockets launched from the French shore. And yet, despite it all, they never did step foot on the island.

Our islands are among the most beautiful places in the world. They have protected and sustained us for thousands of years. Now it is our turn to protect them. We will stand up for our islands. We will not let them be destroyed.

Peter J. Perez has been an active member of the worldwide Chamorro community since the 1990s when he founded Chamorro.com to promote awareness of Chamorro cultural and social issues. In 2004 he co-founded the grassroots activists group PaganWatch. He was on the project that built the 47-foot “Chelu” Chamorro Flying Proa and is founder and president of the CNMI non-profit 500 Sails, Inc. In 2012, Perez and his wife Emma were named Ambassadors-at-Large by the Governor of Guam.

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Peter J. Perez Dayao
This post is published under the Contributing Author. He/she does not normally work for Saipan Tribune but contributes for a specific topic or series.

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