President Donald J. Trump signed into law last Thursday a federal farm bill that contains a provision that now bans cockfighting in all U.S. jurisdictions, including in Guam and in the CNMI.
The $67-billion farm bill is now Public Law 115-334, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
Cockfighting is already banned in all 50 states but this new law extends the ban to all five territories—American Samoa, the CNMI, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ban will become official in one year.
P.L. 115-334 overrides all local laws that legalizes and regulates cockfighting in the territories, where cockfighting is a popular pastime.
CNMI Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU), together with other territorial delegates and some U.S. House members, killed an earlier version of the bill but it passed in June and then went all the way to Trump.
The delegates earlier insisted that any ban on cockfighting should originate in the territories as local law. They defended the practice as part of local cultures.
This was reiterated by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who said in a statement that cockfighting has been part of the CNMI for decades. “Cockfighting has historical and cultural significance in the CNMI and is a recreational activity enjoyed by many of our residents.”
“We joined in our community’s collective frustration with [the U.S.] Congress to oppose the ban, but our voices weren’t heard in Washington. We will monitor the effects of this legislation accordingly, but purely from the local standpoint, we will maintain what is historically and culturally held by our people.”
Sablan, in an earlier statement, also expressed frustration over the measure. “The [non-voting] representatives from Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and I opposed the provision banning animal fighting in the territories. But there was just too much bipartisan support for us to defeat it.”
“If [CNMI] officials decide to ban cockfighting in the Marianas, I would have no problem with that. But I have an issue with the [U.S.] Congress enacting legislation overriding a Commonwealth law without input from [CNMI] citizens and officials.”
People who sponsor cockfighting events face a fine and a maximum prison term of five years, while those who would attend can be punished with a fine and a one-year prison term, as stated in the provision on P.L. 115-334.