House panel seeks comments on military exercises in CNMI

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Do you have an opinion regarding military presence and trainings in the CNMI? The House of Representatives’ Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs wants to hear from you.

The committee is seeking comments from the public about House Joint Resolution 21-8, which lobbies for Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to oppose any increase in destructive military presence or training in the CNMI.

The lawmaker said that the FFA is looking at the issue from the environmental standpoint, and had mentioned to the Mariana Islands Training and Testing office that the CNMI should be given more time to review it and its impacts.

The panel recently held public hearings both on Tinian and Rota where the response had been “pretty positive,” according to FFA chair Rep. Luis John Castro (R-Saipan).

He said the Rota community, while not opposed to the resolution, expressed concerns about the issue.

On Tinian, Castro said, Mayor Edwin Aldan said he’s neither opposed to the resolution nor to the military, but indicated that concerns were brought up during their working group meetings with the military.

“They mentioned to the officials that they would want to try to limit the long-term damage. …They also indicated that the administration itself has been speaking with the military, not to go above and beyond, because of the cultural and environmental impacts that the buildups are going to have,” Castro said.

He said that, as a territory of the United States, the CNMI has to work with the military but he also sees the negative impacts of military presence in the U.S. and in the Pacific, particularly the territories. He cited the case of Guam, where the military’s presence and actions have unintended consequences.

“I try my best to be in the middle but from a personal standpoint, I’m concerned just as much, especially due to the fact that we’ve seen the damage that’s been happening to [Farallon de] Medinilla…as well as in Hawaii,” he said.

At an earlier public hearing for the resolution on Saipan, Northern Marianas Descent Corp. president John Gonzalez said that the U.S. Navy’s actions and intentions are contrary to the intent of the CNMI’s Covenant with the United States.

Also, Gonzales stressed, at the time, that the actions are “illegal and pose an existential threat to our survival as a people, our dignity, our sacred, cultural homeland, and our entire community,” and referenced Section 806 (a) of the Covenant Agreement, which states that the U.S. is to “continue to recognize and respect the scarcity and special importance of land in the Northern Mariana Islands.”

Potential

Castro said that his committee continues to work on getting all information from all stakeholders.

“The governor…does see the potential of the Northern Islands being used for something other than target practice. As governor, he’s led exploratory trips with federal partners…and for the last couple of weeks this month, for promotional purposes,” he said. “They’ve always made it a point that they want to protect the natural resources and interests of the Northern Islands.”

With attention created by YouTube videos that were recently shot in the Northern Islands, Castro said there’s good possibility that there will more interest to visit the islands. “I really want to ensure that when they [tourists] come over, the last thing that they see is something that wasn’t in the brochure, like bombing artillery,” he added.

The FFA chair said that the panel is working to get the resolution out before they hit the last batch of deliberations for the budget. They have received comments from the Bureau of Military Affairs, as well as from concerned community groups, and are again, seeking to receive more.

To submit your comments to the FFA, contact Castro’s office at 664-8903, or email rep.castrolj@cnmileg.gov.mp or repljcastro@gmail.com.

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com

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