The Torres administration issued the following statement about the Palauan abai project:
The Palauan abai (community hall) project has been an ongoing community project in the works since 2006 with open dialogue between government agencies, the Legislature, and the community at-large. It wasn’t until this administration’s collaboration with community partners, the Legislature, the attorney general, the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, and the Department of Public Lands that the project’s current agreement for designation of use was finalized.
The Department of Public Lands signed an agreement for designation of use of public domain lands on May 29, 2018 with the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, which was signed by the attorney general on May 29, 2018.
The document, filed in the CNMI Superior Court and recorded as having File No. 18-1056 was a legal transaction between two government agencies. The CNMI Department of Public Lands is constitutionally mandated to manage and dispose of public lands. The assignments of public lands from one government agency to another fall within the confines of DPL’s mandates, and was approved by the attorney general.
The assignment allowed for the transfer of Lot No. 124 E 40 containing an area of 7,000 square meters to DCCA to construct a Palauan abai. The document stated, “This designation shall not be construed in any manner, substance or form as a grant of permanent interest in the premises, whether freehold, leasehold or by prescription.”
Furthermore, this is not a permanent interest, as Article 6 of the assignment document states that at the end of each 10-year period, or sooner at grantor’s discretion, may conduct a land use review of this designation to ascertain compliance with the intended use of the premises stated herein.
This document was also supported by House Resolution 20-26, HD1 which was passed by the Northern Marianas House of Representatives and sent to DPL. This resolution was supported in an open public session by the following representatives from the 20thg Northern Marianas Commonwealth Legislature: Speaker Rafael S. Demapan and Reps. Angel A. Demapan, Francisco C. Aguon, Edwin P. Aldan, Blas Jonathan “BJ” T. Attao, Donald C. Barcinas, Ivan A. Blanco, Francisco S. Dela Cruz, Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero, Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, Alice S. Igitol, Jose I. Itibus, Glenn L. Maratita, Janet U. Maratita, Edwin K. Propst, Gregorio M. Sablan Jr., John Paul P. Sablan, Vinnie F. Sablan, and minority leader Edmund S. Villagomez.
As background information, DPL issued property in Navy Hill for the abai. This was filed in court and referenced as No. 06-2798, where DPL then-acting secretary Ray Salas transferred part of Tract 26-9 to DCCA, which was signed by Daisy Villagomez-Bier in November 2006. This was also signed by DPL legal counsel Alan Lane and the attorney general back in 2006.
Therefore, the documents are legal, and not a violation of the Constitution, as some claim it to be. It is not a lease and not a permanent interest of land.
Similar community projects of public benefit are under the same legal framework including the CNMI Soccer Training Center in Koblerville and the Kagman Community Health Center in Kagman. For reference, DPL utilizes this same legal instrument for a designation of use for any government department or agency.
In light of a recent protest about the project by a few constituents, it is quite appalling that the expression of opinion and thought by three individuals was not conducted during the earlier stages of this public process or in a more formal setting when the opportunity was available.
While constructive dialogue is welcomed, it is our belief that the misinformed rhetoric expressed by a few misinformed individuals is seeking to divide our diverse community and the numerous contributions made by our Palauan brothers and sisters. Constituents had ample time to publicly comment on this project, which followed all legal procedures and was properly conducted as a legal agreement for designation of use between two government agencies with approval by the attorney general.
There has been concrete commitment expressed by both President Tommy Remengesau Jr. and the CNMI Palau Abai Association that this community hall will be open to the public for our collective benefit. Gov. [Ralph DLG] Torres has fostered the strong relationship between the CNMI and Palau directly with President Remengesau and has expressed that the relationship is a long-term partnership connecting the two island nations. The governor will continue to support the building of the abai and will continue to pursue community enhancement projects that displays the cultural history and unique diversity of the Marianas. (PR)