The revocation of lots from homesteaders is an unfavorable thing but the Department of Public Lands is just following the process and regulations of the homestead program, according to Secretary Marianne Teregeyo C. Teregeyo.
One of those rules is to have a house built on the lot within three years after a permit is issued.
DPL, led by Teregeyo and acting homestead director Ray Salas, held a homestead lottery drawing last week of all revoked lands in As Matuis, Dandan, and Kagman.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres witnessed the lottery drawing that was attended by 13 of the 19 who were invited to pick from the 41 lots at stake.
Teregeyo said DPL followed all the regulations under the homestead program. “[DPL] is required to issue the lots to NMD’s [Northern Marianas descent] but there are regulations that must be followed by the homesteader.”
She said they have been “more aggressive” in implementing the homestead program, with Ray Salas as acting director of the division. “We have been conducting homestead inspections. We go out and inspect the homesteaders that have the lots for many years.”
“Some of the homesteaders have had the lots for 15 years that’s in excess of the three-year limit. It is not favorable to revoke the lots but if you don’t comply with the three-year time, the lot will be put up for lottery again.”
Teregeyo said they have been more active in inspecting the lots of existing homesteaders. They first issue inspection notices to inform the homesteader that they would be conducting a visit and check the lot, and if there are no signs of activity or development they would send warning letters.
“Finally, when all remedies are exhausted, the lot is revoked, but the homesteader still has an opportunity to appeal the revocation within 30 days. A hearing is then held and the hearing officer would determine if extra time is warranted,” added Teregeyo.
“They [inspectors] take photos and document everything. They get all the needed information for the report and the files are thick and we review all of them. One of our goals is to go over homesteaders that have not complied.”
As much as possible, DPL does not want to revoke homestead lots. “It is the least favorable part of the job when we revoke the homestead lots. It is never popular to revoke.”
“Is it really favorable? No, because half of these people are people we know but they don’t understand it. It is not a good day when we sign revocations. We have homesteaders waiting and we have a process.”
DPL has also reactivated the hearing office where homesteaders who had their lots revoked could get the chance to present their case.
“They can talk to the hearing officer. There have been a lot of hearings since the reactivation of the hearing office. That’s why we just don’t decide to do the revocation of lots in just a day. There is a process that we follow,” said Teregeyo.
She is hoping that DPL would not someday revoke the lots of the 13 new homesteaders. “If you’re not complying, you could surrender the lots. When you surrender a lot, you’re still good for another one when you’re ready to build.”