The House of Representatives approved a Senate bill yesterday that would reduce the waiting time of homestead owners to get their deeds from the Department of Public Lands.
On a vote of 13-5, the House passed Sen. Francisco Cruz’s (R-Tinian) Senate Bill 21-10 in session on Capital Hill, cutting down the two-year wait for DPL to issue a deed of conveyance to homestead owners to just 45 days, despite the opposition of the Office of the Attorney General and DPL.
Those who voted in support of the legislation were Reps. Janet Maratita (R-Saipan), Ivan Blanco (R-Saipan), Antonio SN Borja (R-Tinian), Joel Camacho (R-Saipan), Luis “L.J.” John Castro (R-Saipan), Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Joseph A. Flores (Ind-Saipan), Joe Itibus (R-Saipan), Richard Lizama (Ind-Saipan), Marco Peter (R-Saipan), Roman Benavente (R-Saipan), House floor leader John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan), and House Speaker Blas “B.J.” Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan).
Reps. Donald Manglona (Ind-Rota), Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan), Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), and Sheila Babauta (Ind-Saipan) voted against its passage.
Rep. Tina Sablan’s request to summon DPL Secretary Marianne Teregeyo to be asked about the matter did not push through because she would reportedly be off-island.
Much to Sablan’s disappointment, Teregeyo chose to direct her comments to the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs in letters dated Feb. 21, 2019, and Oct. 2, 2019, respectively.
Several House members also expressed disappointment over what they described as Teregeyo’s failure to at least send a substitute to represent DPL at the session to respond to homestead discussions.
Additionally, Teregeyo did not submit comments on the legislation to the House Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Rep. Antonio SN Borja (R-Tinian).
According to the Office of the Attorney General in an Oct. 16, 2019, letter to Borja, cutting down the time from two years to just 45 days were too significant of a change.
“A more reasonable time frame should be provided to the [DPL] secretary…to issue the deed of conveyance. Shortening the deadline from two years to just 45 days is a drastic change,” Attorney General Edward Manibusan wrote to the committee.
The committee, however, was unable to incorporate the OAG’s comments in their committee report, which was dated Oct. 2, 2019, two weeks from the date of the OAG’s letter.
Opposition: DPL chief can’t have absolute authority
One of several concerns that were brought up included Teregeyo’s seemingly absolute authority over certification that provides that the homestead has complied with all laws, rules, and regulations that come with owning a homestead lot.
These include setting up of infrastructure for water, power, and sewage.
According to S.B. 21-10, the DPL secretary’s certification is “final and not subject to review.”
This provision troubled Rep. Sheila Babauta (Ind-Saipan), who moved to delete the line altogether.
However, Rep. John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan) argued that the DPL secretary, like any other Cabinet member, is sworn into office and therefore hasd the legal obligation to uphold the laws and regulations of the CNMI.
Babauta rebutted that a certificate from DPL implies finality and including the language in the law leaves it open to interpretation and challenge.
Sablan eventually agreed to compromise by only amending the language and not having it omitted entirely. The agreed amendment still introduced a sense of finality to the secretary’s certificate but it is still open to review.
Even though Sablan and Babauta reached a compromise after over an hour of heated discussions during recess, the amendment was ultimately defeated by a vote of 8-10.
Only Reps. Donald Manglona (Ind-Rota), Janet Maratita (R-Saipan), Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan), Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), Babauta, and Sablan voted in favor of the amendmen but that was not enough to carry through a simple majority.