The Office of Attorney General is happy that not one, not two, but three members of the House of Representatives are willing to sign off on the certified question about Public Law 18-19, which appropriates $800,000 to landowners whose properties were taken by the government for public use.
Attorney General Gilbert Birnbrich said a certified question before the Supreme Court will put finality not only to the much-debated land compensation law but also any law and future laws that appropriates money from the Managaha landing and users fees.
“The issue of the constitutionality of whether the Legislature may appropriate the Managaha landing fees has been lingering for 15 years. We are grateful that members of the Legislature are stepping forward to help the administration and the OAG resolve this long festering issue,” he said in an email to Saipan Tribune.
He said the Office of the Attorney General always consults with Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Department of Public Lands Secretary Pete A. Tenorio on the issue of the certified question and Public Law 18-19, in general.
“After it is determined who will be the named representative(s) on the other side of the certified question, attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General, in consultation with the governor and secretary of Public Lands, will work in collaboration with the named representative(s) and their designated counsel to expeditiously bring the certified question to the Supreme Court.”
Birnbirch said only after a member of the Legislature agrees to work with the Executive Branch on the certified question will the OAG, again in concert with the Inos administration and DPL secretary, collaborate “with the named representative(s) and their designated counsel to come up with the appropriate wording” for the certified question.
House Speaker Joseph Deleon and Reps. Tony Benavente and Chris Leon Guerrero are the three members of the House who have volunteered to sign off on the certified question.
The attorney general also explained why the OAG opposed the public law in the first place, saying it runs counter to the CNMI Constitution.
“It is the OAG’s belief that SLL 18-19 is unconstitutional because it infringes upon the constitutionally required function of [Marianas Public Land Trust] to receive the revenues generated from the management and disposition of public lands for the benefit of persons of Northern Marianas descent.”
When asked why the OAG didn’t just recommend that the governor veto the bill when it reached his desk, Birnbrich said: “Any communication the OAG had with the governor regarding SLL 18-19 is privileged from disclosure under attorney-client confidentiality. Confidential and privileged communications are recognized in law and rule and are an extremely important aspect of any lawyer-client relationship. As such, confidential and privileged communication is an extremely important aspect of the OAG’s relationship with government officials such as the governor.”
Pete A to follow court decision
Public Lands Secretary Tenorio, meanwhile, said he has provided Rep. Ramon A. Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) a breakdown of the payment schedule rates of the Managaha landing and users fees but he has refused to make the money available to the Legislature for Public Law 18-19.
“I don’t comply to make the money available. That’s the ultimate request to make the money available. But, like I said before, I’m listening to the AG. The attorney general said it’s unconstitutional based on his opinion. We need to subject this question to the courts. We have not resolved that issue.”
Echoing Birnbrich, Tenorio wants the issue on Managaha landing fees finally resolved.
“The certified question has not been addressed. We’re waiting for that and we hope that the two parties can come together so they can go to court so this will be decided once and for all. If the court says, ‘DPL follow,’ then I [will] follow. As it is right now, it’s a decision to be made between a public law that is questionable and a provision of the Constitution. I would rather violate the public law, which is questionable than to violate the Constitution, which is not questionable. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.”