The House of Representatives has passed a bill to mandate the Department of Public Lands to review all past and pending claims to own public land being used for agricultural purposes for a period of 35 years or more, to grant such title to qualified persons.
With 15 representatives present at the House session Monday voting “yes” and only Rep. Roy Ada (R-Saipan) voting “no,” House Bill No. 22-84 passed and now goes to the Senate for action.
The bill would repeal a statute pertaining to the Waiver of Homestead Requirements.
Under the legislation, DPL shall waive any requirements, limitations or regulations relating to the agricultural homesteading program in effect.
Under the bill, legally entitled to all the rights and interest of ownership of such agricultural land are any person who can demonstrate continuous and actual occupancy or use of public land for agricultural purposes (grazing/farming) and etc. for a period of 35 years or more.
Also entitled are any person who can demonstrate that he or she would have continuously and actually occupied or used public land for agricultural purposes for a period of 35 years or more but for the U.S. military or Trust Territory Administration’s removal of the person from such land.
DPL shall convey such land by deed to any person who complies with procedures and requirements for granting of deeds established under the statute.
Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, rules or regulations to the contrary, DPL shall grant title to public land for qualified individuals not to exceed 1.5 hectares or 15,000 square meters provided, however, that all necessary documents are completed and all requests from DPL are honored.
Before the voting, Ada stated that he is just curious as to the urgency of this bill and if there is any reason why it was pulled out of committee, and that there is no committee report for this legislation.
Floor leader Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan), who is the author of the bill, said it was introduced way back since October last year.
Yumul said he tried to get House Natural Resources Committee chairwoman Rep. Sheila J. Babauta (D-Saipan) to move on the bill, but it never got through to the committee.
He said the bill was moved out of the committee so it would be acted on.
Yumul said they haven’t heard anything from his bill and that he feels that it should be moved and given a chance and the House members decide based on the policy.
“If we have the votes, then we will move on. At least have DPL go through the process and review all the claims again and issue lands to such qualified people,” he said.
Ada said he knows somewhat of the agriculture homestead policies or people obtaining the deed for occupying the agriculture homestead for a certain period of time, but even at this point, there are many people that have not received any property due to whatever issues or matters pertaining at DPL.
Ada said his position is that the House should do more public hearing or outreach to the public and see what their concerns will be in regards to this bill.
Vice speaker Rep. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) said unfortunately back in the 14 Legislature when they introduced this legislation, they actually had a list of names of individuals that actually qualified for these specific lands that were utilized since the 1960s and 1970s.
Attao said, however, back then DPL was under the Marianas Public Lands Authority.
“And I’m not going to put any blame on the [MPLA] board members or any other employees back then. But only certain individuals were given their properties,” he said.
Attao said House Bill 22-84 make sure that those individuals that qualified back then are actually given those properties rightfully so.
He noted that a lot of these grazing properties are much smaller than the actual grazing that are being given out today.
Attao said if he can recall back from the 14th Legislature, only a few families got those properties.
Yumul stated in the bill that DPL, the successor to MPLA, is mandated to carry out the intent of the Homestead Waiver Act by processing public land claims of persons who are qualified to obtain legal title to land.
Yumul said DPL carried out its mandate by establishing a list of persons that might be qualified.
He said DPL, however, excluded the names of certain persons who may otherwise be qualified, and declined to grant them title to public land.