Both leaders of the CNMI House of Representatives and Senate declared yesterday that they are now open for business, with the GOP-dominated 20th Legislature ready to buckle down to work with the administration to push forward its legislative agenda in the next two years.
The 20th Legislature held its inaugural session yesterday, with the House opening at 10am followed by the Senate an hour later.
CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro administered the oath of office for the House while CNMI Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja officiated at the Senate.
House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan), who retained his post, said he was honored and humbled by the trust of the Republican super majority. “I am privileged to be the voice today of this organized body.”
“I have quite a role as the speaker with the other 14 members of the super majority—including two women, representatives Janet U. Maratita and Alice S. Igitol—and five from the minority. In the days leading to this special day, I can’t help but reflect that it has been 40 years since we first established a Commonwealth Legislature.”
Demapan likened the Legislature to a person that is already in his 40s. “Some would say this is the person’s midlife crisis where one would encounter a crossroad in our journey. But one thing is sure, the person is wiser and more mature based on the many life experiences and changes in life.”
He reminded all members of the advice of Bishop Ryan P. Jimenez during last Saturday’s Red Mass about charting a course together with purpose and understanding for the people of the Commonwealth, for they are also shepherds of the people.
Demapan challenged his colleagues to work together, and use their knowledge and talents for a successful CNMI. “Let us seek the possibilities and potential in all of us. I would be committed to be your speaker that would chart our course together.”
“We are not going to wait for our future but we are going to make it. We are not going to wait for things to happen, we are going to make things happen. We need to improve the quality of life of the people and deliver on our promises.”
Sen. Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), who was voted unanimously to lead the body, said the 20th Legislature has a great deal of work ahead of them after the CNMI decided to establish a gaming industry.
“The Commonwealth has embarked on a bold undertaking in the region, with Saipan as its centerpiece attraction. We are in the beginning stages of that endeavor. Already, Garapan is being transformed into something we have not seen before.”
“As I watch the cranes moving back and forth at the [Imperial Pacific Resort] project and the steel columns rise, I am awed. But as I look beyond the cranes to the surrounding streets, I am also alarmed and concerned.”
Palacios said the government gained a lot since approving casino gaming on Saipan as it has the needed money to pay its past due obligations and fund other programs to deliver basic services. The increase in economic activity was not seen in close to two decades.
“But with those benefits have come the costs. Gridlock traffic along Garapan is common, a place teeming with both tourists and construction workers. Issues with [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and environmental regulations have increased,” said Palacios. “The community and businesses have had to adjust to a different tourist market, mostly made up of Chinese and Korean visitors instead of tourists from Japan. Small businesses have closed, unable to obtain permits for CW workers as competition for limited slots intensified.”
He warned other CNMI officials to learn from the past. “Beyond Saipan, there is no trickle-down benefit to Rota and Tinian of casino development other than $2 million in direct assistance guaranteed under the casino law.”
“The [Tinian] Dynasty shut down its operations; the fledgling casino business on Rota has not taken off as envisioned when their voters legalized casino gaming in a popular initiative. These are tough times for the people of Tinian and Rota. If we are not careful, tough times may be ahead again for the people of Saipan.”
Electing the leaders of both the House and Senate were only a formality as both bodies had already agreed on what would be their makeup.
Reps. Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan) and Glenn L. Maratita (R-Rota), as expected, were elevated as vice speaker and floor leader, respectively.
Palacios replaced Sen. Francisco M. Borja (R-Tinian) as Senate President, with the latter assuming the role of floor leader. Sen. Steve K. Mesngon (R-Rota) assumed the post of Senate vice president.
The House also chose their committee chairs, with the Senate expected to release its composition within the week. All 15 GOP members in the House have their respective positions: Rep. Angel A. Demapan (Ways and Means), Rep. Alice S. Igitol (Natural Resources) Rep. Jose I. Itibus (Health), Rep. Edwin P. Aldan (Education), Rep. Francisco C. Aguon (Social and Human Services), Ivan A. Blanco (Judiciary and Government Operations), Rep. Gregorio M. Sablan Jr. (Federal and Foreign Affairs), Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero (Commerce and Tourism), Rep. Francisco S. Dela Cruz (Public Utilities and Communication), Rep. Donald C. Barcinas (Transportation), and Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (Gaming).