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Saturday, April 19, 2014

‘NMI, Guam reunification will be up to the people’

A bill that seeks to ask the people of Guam next year if they support reunification with CNMI residents is drawing different reactions from CNMI leaders and residents, including Gov. Benigno R. Fitial who said the decision rests with the people of the Commonwealth by way of another plebiscite.

Other lawmakers and residents do not necessarily support reunification with Guam, which rejected reunification with the NMI 42 years ago, on Nov. 4, 1969.

Prior to the Guam vote, NMI residents made it clear they wanted to reunify with Guam.

Renewed talks of reunification were spawned by Guam Sen. Judith Guthertz’s introduction yesterday of Bill 168-31, which would ask the people of Guam if they support reunification with CNMI residents.

The bill would put the non-binding question on the 2012 general election ballot.

The question would be: “Should Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Islands (Saipan, Rota, Tinian, and the Northern Islands) reunify in the pursuit of a new political status? Yes or No.”

Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan said it’s not in the best interest of the CNMI to be reunified with Guam. Among other things, given the much bigger size of Guam than the CNMI, the CNMI will just become a “village” of Guam should both areas seek statehood.

Unlike the CNMI which is a self-governing territory with its own Constitution, Guam is an organized unincorporated territory of the United States, a colonial status that has not changed.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said while the topic of reunification had long been a point of discussion in the Marianas, he’s not aware of any consultation specific to Guthertz’s Bill 168-31.

“Understandably though, it is important to note that the bill would basically place a ‘non-binding’ question before Guam’s voters in the next election,” he said.

Demapan also said the idea of unification would require extensive research and review.

“Moreover, it would be premature to talk about what unification would mean at this point given that the Commonwealth government has maintained its stance that any attempt to explore and achieve reunification of Guam and the CNMI would have to be a decision that is made by the people. Gov. Benigno R. Fitial believes that if reunification is to be pursued again, it should be done only at the will of the people by way of another plebiscite,” he said.

The press secretary said the Fitial administration has always believed that the votes of the people are the “ultimate voice of the community.”

“Thus, it is the only way we can wholly determine whether or not this is an idea that is supported by the people,” he added.

Former House speaker Pedro Deleon Guerrero, who voted in favor of reunification with Guam in the ’60s before Guam rejected such reunification, said it is hard to decide on the matter if it’s put to a vote today.

He said if it’s statehood that Guam wants that’s why it wants to reunify with the CNMI, then his response to a question on reunification would depend “on what’s on the table, on what Guam would be offering.”

Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) echoed Deleon Guerrero’s sentiment. He said before the CNMI could also vote on reunification, there should be negotiation between the two territories on the merits and impact of such move on both of them.

Torres, one of the longest serving lawmakers, has long been pushing for the creation of a commission to reexamine U.S.-CNMI political relations, particularly whether a “commonwealth” status is still desired by the people pursuant to the terms of the original Covenant agreement.

Torres said he initially supported reunification in the ’60s, but when Guam voters rejected such, the Northern Marianas sought political status changes independent from Guam and this led to the negotiation of a Covenant agreement of Commonwealth status with the United States.

“I don’t think Northern Marianas people will consider reunification at this time, but the best way to know that is by way of asking voters,” Torres said.

Deleon Guerrero, who was a member of the 902 negotiations, said he would also recommend Guam to exercise first its political determination before even seeking reunification with the CNMI.

Guthertz bill says the results of the 2012 vote on the reunification question shall provide guidance to Guam’s overall goal for its future.

In a statement yesterday, Guthertz said Guam voters’ rejection of reunification with the CNMI during a 1969 plebiscite was a result of the “hard feelings” left over from World War II when the U.S. Territory of Guam was captured and occupied by the Japanese military, whereas the islands of the CNMI had been a colony of Japan since 1919.

One theory behind Guam people’s rejection of reunification is that it came as a “payback” to the Northern Marianas Chamorros for their assistance to Japanese forces during the occupation of Guam, leading to the demise of a number of Guam Chamorros.

“Although political leaders in both Guam and the NMI understood the practical benefits of a larger population base and closer relationship with the United States, they were not able to overcome the hard feelings between Guam and Saipan left over from World War II and the Japanese occupation. The clearly perceived and anything but imaginary snub of rejection has rankled with Saipan residents to this day and various efforts to revive reunification over the years have failed,” she said.

But Guthertz said “it’s time to kick this discussion into the 21st Century.”

She said over the years, both Guam and the CNMI have endured some difficult times, but the bill suggests that the present Guam military buildup, which envisions use of CNMI land-based facilities, may provide another motivation for the two unities to reunify.

“If the results favor reunification, the separation that occurred in 1898, when Guam was ceded to the United States, and the Northern Mariana Islands were sold by Spain to Germany, will finally be terminated and a unification of the people of the Marianas Archipelago will be accomplished and the overall direction set for purposes of moving forward,” her bill says.

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