A House joint resolution is set to be introduced today in a session of the House of Representatives on Capital Hill, requesting Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to oppose any increase military presence or training in the CNMI.
Pre-filed by Rep. Sheila Babauta (Ind-Saipan), the resolution also lobbies to oppose all proposed military use of the Northern Islands.
Babauta said the resolution intendss to make clear the legislators’ stance on further military trainings in the CNMI.
“This resolution is really just the first step to the overall goal to protect our CNMI and really support sustainability of our people. Sustainability of our environment means sustainability of our people. This one is encouraging the governor to oppose any increase in military presence or training,” she said.
Babauta particularly referred to documents that specified the sizes of bombs, the types of trainings, and the supposed environmental impacts of such military exercises in the CNMI.
“How is it going to impact us? We are saying that we have already made agreements with the U.S., we have Farallon de Medinilla, an entire island that they are using. They have a huge portion of Tinian and to give them anymore would be detrimental to our environment,” she added.
Protecting the Commonwealth
Last month, activist and cultural advocate Pete Perez spoke to the members of the House on behalf of Our Common Wealth, a new organization formed to oppose the further militarization in the CNMI. Perez is a co-founder of Paganwatch, which advocates for indigenous rights.
Paganwatch, along with the Tinian Women Association, Guardians of Gani and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit against the Navy and the Department of Defense to stop the military’s plans to use not just Tinian, but the whole of Pagan, for high-level live-fire training. The case was heard in the District Court for the District of CNMI; the U.S. government won that case.
The group appealed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Honolulu, and the case was heard in early February.
“Our goal in this is to stop the use of our islands for bombing ranges,” Perez said. “As our late governor [Eloy S.] Inos said, the Navy’s plan to create bombing ranges in the Mariana Islands poses an existential threat to our community.”
A safe haven in CNMI
At the same House session, Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (Rep-Saipan) said that, instead of turning the islands into bombing ranges, the U.S. should look into the CNMI as a safe haven for when calamity strikes.
“They should be looking at us and say, we should create an ecosystem environment here so in case there’s major destruction in the U.S., and calamity with all these new viruses, this is a safe haven,” he said.
The legislator further stated that the military should think outside the box, and not destroy something that they can sustain. “What I don’t understand is the United States is a big country, they have open water. Why don’t they go do their practice over there? We’re a small…chain of islands.”
“They’re not thinking about survival. Destruction is only their forte here right now. I don’t believe that they’re here to protect us. They are here to destroy us,” Guerrero lamented.
According to Perez, the U.S. Marines plan to use the entire island of Pagan as a live fire bombing range to provide training for the planned move of 4,800 Marines to Guam.
Unlike military bases, though, bombing ranges will not bring an economic boon, Perez said. Rather, they will deprive the CNMI of valuable resources and cause irretrievable damage to these resources in the process, he added.
“[On Pagan], that area there is our resource. We should be farming and we should have people out there fishing. We should have people living their lives,” he said. “We’re talking not just about making money, we’re talking about quality of life. …the Navy shouldn’t be taking it away from us. It is not only unfair, it is just not necessary.”
“The Navy claims that the new live-fire ranges are required to support the Marines who are a forward fighting force. But they’re not a forward fighting force because they have no lift—no ships to take them to the conflict. The ships are in Hawaii and California, where they will carry local Marines directly to the conflict because it is faster,” Perez added.
The activist also stressed that there are ample training ranges already in place, fully developed and paid for, where the Marines from Guam can go to join the rest of the Marines for training.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s outline of its military plans in the CNMI are contained in several reports that have been released over the last few years: the Mariana Islands Range Complex in 2010, the Mariana Islands Testing and Training that begun in 2015, the CNMI Joint Military Training, also in 2015, the Divert Activities and Exercises in Tinian in 2016, and the Litekyan Live Fire Training Range Complex in 2018.