In about three weeks’ time, the Commonwealth government will finally pay the estate of Maria Mangabao the millions it owes the estate for nearly a quarter of a century.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said the government also intends to address the other large outstanding judgments of the CNMI government.
This comes soon after Superior Court judge pro tempore Alberto C. Lamorena III ordered the CNMI government on Monday to pay the Mangabao estate $16.3 million by Aug. 18, 2017, for taking the estate’s land in Chalan Kanoa in 1993.
Torres noted that fully paying off the Mangabao estate alone will save the government an estimated $3.8 million in accruing interest.
Besides the Mangabao estate, the other judgments to be addressed include the Lizama, Muña, Quitugua, and Rogolofoi estates.
The money will come from the business gross revenue tax generated by the casino industry, Torres said in a statement last night.
“With the increase in revenue as a result of our growing economy, we are now able to fully pay off our government’s biggest debts and obligations. Since the June 23, 2017 court order, my administration, through then-acting governor Arnold I. Palacios, held several meetings and discussions with the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Finance in order to come up with a payment plan,” Torres said. “It was agreed that the most fiscally responsible decision would be to pay the judgments in full by Aug. 18, 2017.”
Palacios, as Senate President, and House Speaker Ralph S. Demapan (R-Saipan), in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Public Lands, facilitated in the drafting of the bill to be sent to the Legislature that would authorize the appropriation in order to respect the court-ordered timeline to fulfill the obligation to the Mangabao estate.
“The prompt passage of this bill is important, not only because it fully pays off the judgment so that it does not accumulate additional interest, but it also solidifies our commitment to paying off our government’s other debts and judgments. Other outstanding land compensation judgments will be addressed in subsequent legislation, but the administration and the Legislature have been successfully collaborating to get those done,” Palacios said.
Torres underscored the importance of addressing the government’s longstanding obligations. “For years, these families have been waiting and have been promised, and my administration and the Legislature would like to thank them for their patience and sacrifices. I believe that our government needs to live up to its promises, and it is my hope that under my administration, we will continue to address the other land judgments and other government debts, so that we can start building a better future for our children and for our Commonwealth.”
In his Monday order, Lamorena said the amount of $16,296,263 that the government must pay the Mangabao estate represents the outstanding principal and interest that will have accrued by Aug. 18, 2017.
The judge issued the order after the parties in the Mangabao’s lawsuit submitted a payment plan to the court. Assistant attorney general Charles E. Brasington, counsel for the government, submitted the plan.
Last month, Lamorena praised the CNMI government for paying the Mangabao estate heirs $3 million, but ordered the government to begin paying the remaining balance of over $15 million within 30 days.
In that order, Lamorena expressed concern that the Commonwealth has not taken enough steps to pay the Mangabao estate in full.
Should the government be unable to make payments and/or unable to satisfy the terms of the judgment, Lamorena said the government should detail its payment plan that must cover the full interest rate for each installment plus an additional 25 percent of the installment toward the principal.
Attorney Michael Dotts, counsel for the heirs, told Saipan Tribune earlier that the government made a $3-million payment last March, reducing the total amount due from close to $20 million to about $17 million.
Dotts said attorneys are now working to get that first $3 million distributed to the heirs.
Dotts said interest is now accruing at about $957,000 per year.
Dotts said the motion that resulted in Lamorena’s order was written and filed by the late Edward Arriola, who also served as counsel for the heirs.
“If it were not for Ed, this every important step forward in making the CNMI recognize and pay its legal obligations would not have happened,” Dotts said.
The heirs, though Arriola and Dotts, sought an order from the CNMI Supreme Court and Superior Court to compel the government to pay the judgment entered in 2008 that has grown to $18.8 million over the taking of their land in Chalan Kanoa.
According to court records, the CNMI and the Mangabao heirs agreed to the taking of land consisting of 6,000 square meters in 1993 and a judgment of $4.2 million.