The Federal Bureau of Investigation cast a dragnet across Saipan on Nov. 7, 2019, dispatching agents that executed several search warrants to look for evidence of possible fraud, money laundering, and other federal violations. The searches, executed through Nov. 8, 2019, targeted offices such as the Governor’s Office; Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ house; an office of casino operator Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC; the office of Alfred Yue of Marianas Consultancy Services LLC, a consultant for the casino; Legend Realty Saipan; and the Torres Brothers’ law office.
Federal search warrants as well as seizure reports were filed and leaked, but were later sealed by the CNMI District Courts. (Erwin Encinares)
A Skymark Airlines Inc. Boeing 737-800 plane carrying 177 passengers, including Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Skymark president and representative director Masahiko Ichie, touched down at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport last Nov. 29 for its inaugural non-stop daily regular direct flight from Tokyo to Japan.
Prior to that, Skymark flew a charter plane to Saipan on March 22, making it the first Japanese carrier to fly directly to Saipan since Japan Airlines withdrew from the CNMI in 2005. (Ferdie de la Torre)
Deaths and unsolved cases
The turn of the year could have very well foreshadowed what 2019 would be with the death of 22-year old Akiyama Eiki, who drowned in the waters off Bird Island on Jan. 1, 2019.
Shortly after, on Jan. 4, Aurelio del Prado, 74, died after being hit by a car as he was crossing the street across Joeten Dandan. Nine months later, on Oct. 26, a car drove off Banzai Cliff; a body has yet to be found. A car collision on Dec. 16, killed Sergio Apostol, who later succumbed at the hospital to multiple injuries.
On March 23, police found a decomposing body in Kagman, the cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrest. On April 5, two police officers patrolling Chalan Kanoa’s district 4 noticed an unresponsive man under a concrete bench. He was brought to the hospital and pronounced dead.
On May 13, a man found lying unresponsive by the side of the road near Dandan Middle School was declared dead, of natural causes.
On May 28, police officers came upon an unconscious Dong Pabalinas along Beach Road. He was immediately brought to the Commonwealth Health Center where he was pronounced dead.
On Aug. 13, an elderly woman was found dead in a home in Finasisu, with her body in an advanced stage of decomposition. Death was blamed on natural causes. On Nov. 25, a decomposing body of a still unidentified person was found by two hikers in the outer cove of Bird Island.
On Nov. 12, an inmate of the Department of Corrections prison in Susupe was found dead, with unofficial reports claiming that he hung himself.
On Dec. 13, two women, Li Na Lim, 42, and Linhua Cui, 54, were found dead inside Rice Cake Best Food Restaurant in San Antonio. The women were shot. (Iva Maurin)
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed Directive 2019-004 on May 30, 2019, effectively implementing a 72-hour bi-weekly work schedule beginning June 23, 2019, as the government prioritized recovery efforts in the wake of Super Typhoon Yutu.
On Nov. 14, 2019, Torres issued Directive 2020-001, stating that effective Nov. 24, 2019, the regular 80-hour bi-weekly work schedules would be restored, exactly five months after. (Erwin Encinares)
14 days for Chinese tourists
Effective Oct. 3, 2019, the length of time that Chinese tourists are allowed to stay in the CNMI was cut from 45 days to just 14 days instead.
The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands later said that most Chinese tourists stay only for three to five days in the CNMI and that they were fine with the regulation changes.
Back in 2009, when the Chinese and Russian tourists got the green light to visit the CNMI without a pre-approved U.S. visa, they were allowed to stay for a maximum of 45 days. (Erwin Encinares)
The Commonwealth Cannabis Commission was created in early September 2019, setting off the 180-day clock for the commission to come up with homegrown regulations for those who wish to plant cannabis; commercial regulations for those who are looking to get into the cannabis industry in the CNMI; and the medicinal regulations that allows the health care industry to take advantage of the health benefits of cannabis. According to commission chair Nadine Deleon Guerrero in early December 2019, they are already halfway done with the regulations. (Erwin Encinares)
Still no regs
Public Law 116-24, previously known as H.R. 559, was enacted June 26, 2019, providing CNMI-only residence for an estimated 1,039 humanitarian parolees. The legislation also mandates U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to come up with regulations 180 days after H.R. 559’s enactment.
USCIS has yet to publish their regulations for the new legislation, despite a Dec. 23, 2019, deadline. (Erwin Encinares)
End of visa-free entry for Russian tourists
Effective last Oct. 3, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security stopped the entry of Russian tourists to the CNMI and Guam without first obtaining a U.S. visa. The federal government’s sudden decision took the Marianas Visitors Authority by surprise. MVA board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce sees it as the loss of thousands of dollars for the CNMI’s economy almost overnight. The CNMI had sought to grow the Russian market starting in 2005. (Ferdie de la Torre)
Imperial Pacific sues CCC
Last June, Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC sued the Commonwealth Casino Commission to prohibit CCC from releasing information in their audited financial reports that they believe is confidential.
The dispute arises from the Open Government Act request filed with CCC by Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) on June 13, 2019.
Last Aug. 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied IPI’s motion to stay or suspend the U.S. District Court for the NMI’s preliminary injunction order that allowed CCC to disclose IPI’s confidential income tax information that is subject of a legal dispute. IPI and its two subsidiaries, and CCC eventually agreed to dismiss all their court actions in federal court. (Ferdie de la Torre)
Dengue fever in the Marianas
The Pacific Epidemic and Emerging Disease Alert confirmed the presence of dengue fever in the Marianas in November. The red alert was changed to a blue alert as of Nov. 26, which means the chance of an epidemic in the region, is decreasing. The last reported case of dengue fever in the Marianas region was last Nov. 11.
CHCC got its first case of dengue back in August from a patient who returned from an off-island trip and contracted the disease in Palau. Their second case was seen in early September with another patient who also returned from Palau.
Although there is a vaccine for dengue fever, it has only been approved for those who have already been infected with dengue. (Kimberly A. Bautista)