Land ownership for those with ‘at least some degree’ of indigenous blood

Posted on Dec 06 2011
8 other bills, resolutions passed
By Haidee V. Eugenio

By a vote of 15-0, the House of Representatives passed yesterday afternoon an Article 12 initiative that specifically changes the 25 percent or one-quarter blood quantum requirement to only “at least some degree” of Chamorro or Carolinian blood or a combination of these, in order to be considered a person of Northern Marianas descent and therefore can own land in the CNMI.

Article 12 of the NMI Constitution restricts land ownership to persons of Northern Marianas descent or NMDs.

In yesterday’s session, the House passed eight other bills and resolutions, including one that requires employers to provide resident workers with the same level of wages and benefits as foreign workers.

Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), author of House Legislative Initiative 17-3, House Draft 1, said her bill also addresses the concerns of those who want to repeal Article 12 in its entirety.

Just like Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan) and Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), Ogumoro said the initiative allows anyone who could prove to the court that they have “at least some degree” of indigenous blood to be considered NMD and therefore qualify to own land in the CNMI.

As it is now, future generations of Chamorro and Carolinian families may not be able to own land because they fall below the 25 percent blood quantum requirement, an “unfair” requirement to many in the community who want to pass on to their descendants their property.

Ogumoro said she’s thankful for her colleagues in supporting the measure amending Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution and hopes the Senate will do the same.

“We’d like to see this initiative placed on the ballot in November 2012,” Ogumoro told Saipan Tribune.

Section 805 of the Covenant allows the CNMI to revisit its land alienation restrictions 25 years after the termination of the Trusteeship Agreement in 1986.

That 25-year period will end in 2011, and this is the reason why there’s as many as four initiatives seeking to tinker with Article 12.

Tebuteb, one of those who signed off on a committee report recommending passage of Ogumoro’s initiative, said HLI 17-3, HD1 “promotes fairness.”

Many citizens today are worried that their “children’s children’s children” will no longer be able to own land because they no longer posses at least one-quarter Chamorro or Carolinian blood to be considered an NMD.

House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Torres separately said while they support Ogumoro’s initiative, they also support two identical bills in the House and Senate seeking a vote on whether to maintain or repeal Article 12.

“If either of the two initiatives passes, then Ogumoro’s initiative will become moot. But we don’t know whether those initiatives will pass,” said Deleon Guerrero, author of a pending initiative asking voters whether they want to maintain or repeal Article 12.

Deleon Guerrero said he asked the Committee on Natural Resources to hold off action on his initiative to give way to Manglona’s similar Senate initiative which had already gone through public hearings.

Ogumoro’s initiative is the first one related to Article 12 to “move” in the 17th Legislature. Besides Deleon Guerrero and Manglona’s initiatives, Sen. Luis Crisostimo (Ind-Saipan) also has a pending initiative extending the cap on private land leases from 55 years to 99 years, among other things.

All the 15 House members present during yesterday’s session voted “yes” on Ogumoro’s initiative.

The absent members were Reps. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), Ray Palacios (Cov-Saipan), Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan), Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), and Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan).

The Fitial administration has maintained that given the many years that have passed since the inception of Article 12, “the administration agrees that it is an opportune time to revisit the issue of determining an NMD by way of the blood quantum.”

If HLI 17-3 is also passed by the Senate, it will be presented to voters in the next election.

Voters will decide whether having at least some degree of Chamorro or Carolinian blood or a combination, or an adopted child of an NMD if adopted while under 18, can acquire permanent and long-term interest in real property within the CNMI and whether it’s in the best interest of the people of the CNMI.

Other bills, resolutions passed

Besides passing Ogumoro’s HLI 17-3, HD1, the House also passed the following measures:

-House Bill 17-225 or the Resident Workers Fair Compensation Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan). The bill seeks to provide resident workers with the same level of wages and benefits as foreign workers, including but not limited to food, housing, transportation, health insurance, and medical expenses.

-House Bill 17-224, introduced by Rep. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota), seeks to rename two merged schools on Rota as the Dr. Rita Hocog Inos Junior/Senior High School.

-House Bill 17-182, HD1, by Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), seeks to, among other things, require that all terminations and contract non-renewals in the Public School System be actuated “only with cause.” Unlike the other bills that mostly passed on a 15-0 vote, Torres’s bill passed by a vote of 9-6.

-House Bill 17-77, HD1, by Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan), providing option to continue government life insurance coverage under the same group terms and contribution or not.

-Senate Bill 17-23, SD1, authored by Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota). The House reconsidered their previous action to “file” the bill, which seeks to give certain Commonwealth Utilities Corp. customers a 21-day grace period after the billing date to pay their utility bills

-House Resolution 17-81, by Santos, recognizing David Ayuyu Atalig for his contributions to the CNMI, especially to Rota.

-House Resolution 17-82, by Ogumoro, congratulating the Mount Carmel High School Mock Trial participants in their victory at the Nov. 19 Annual Asia-Pacific Mock Trial Competition held in Guam.

-House Resolution 17-83, by Santos, urging the governor to exempt Customs and Quarantine officers and inspectors from austerity measures.

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