Revitalizing life in the Northern Islands


Northern Islands Mayor Vicente Santos, right, and former Alamagan residents aboard the Super Emerald are trying to find ways to go back to the island. Behind them is Alamagan Island where seven people currently reside. (Bea Cabrera)

PAGAN—The Northern Islands Mayor’s Office is currently working on plans to revitalize the Northern Islands to attract residents to come back in hopes that they can boost the population.

According to Northern Islands Mayor Vicente B. Santos, there are currently 13 people thriving in the Northern Islands—four on Agrigan, two on Pagan, and seven on Alamagan.

“All I want is to see all the Northern Islanders to go back to the islands so they can re-populate and rebuild the islands. I know that is not easy but we are willing to help those who show interest,” he said.

Santos said developing the islands continue to be a challenge because of the lack of transportation. He said his office is only able to charter a vessel every three months to bring in materials and supplies into the islands.

“A reliable and regular transportation is what we are hoping to have and once it is in place, people will have a different perspective up north,” he added.

Santos came into office in March last year by succession after the untimely death of former Northern Islands mayor Jerome K. Aldan. Since assuming office Santos said he has never stopped improving the islands.

“Improvements started on the islands of Agrigan and Pagan and we are now working on Alamagan. All these islands need water and that is why we made it a priority because without water, people cannot stay on island,” he said.

“We are still in the process of cleaning the water tanks in Alamagan and we are not done yet. It’s the dry season now and we don’t want to empty the tanks to clean it. We are waiting for the rainy season to finish cleaning, catch rain water and cover it so it’s good for use for the residents of the Northern Island,” he added.

Other plans include creating livelihood opportunities for the returning residents.

“When the Northern Islands residents return in all of the three islands, the sources of livelihood that can be done are fishing, farming, cattle, and tourism, but only with the right investors,” Santos said.

He said Pagan is considered the main island of the Northern Islands as it is accessible both by boat and planes.

“We have the runway but we need to clean and improve it to keep it running. An airplane can bring up cargo and the small boats can transfer cargo to all the other islands,” he added.

Santos grew up in Alamagan, left the island for Saipan at 12 years old to attend school and that’s why he understands the sentiments of the residents about the education of their children.

“The reason why the people of the Northern Islands is on Saipan is because the children are in school. It’s hard for them to stay [because] we don’t have schools built. Putting up a school is part of my plan because in order for me to keep the residents to stay, we need to be able to provide education for children,” he said.

The mayor said if his office wants to build communities again, it has to be able to provide basic necessities.

“On my next trip, I think the speaker of the House, Rafael Demapan, is planning to go up and visit. I’ve been actively inviting congressmen and senators to go up north and I hope one of these days they visit the islands so they can see what we need over there,” he added.

Santos said that each island has so much to offer that can be economically viable and provide for the other islands in the CNMI.

“Each island has natural resources that can be utilized by all islands. For Agrigan, the residents can do charcoal because that island has a lot of tangantangan and we can provide that as the quality of charcoal on Saipan is not the same anymore; and banana farming. On Pagan, we see tourism as it can facilitate activities like diving, hunting, and hiking. On Alamagan, my plan is farming too because the soil is very rich.”

With only six months to have plans in place before the next election, Santos, who is running for election, vows to do the best he can for his people.

“If I get elected this coming elections, I will continue to do my best for the people. I do not believe in being a strong leader. I believe in a strong doer of things for the Northern Islands,” he said.

“…Growing up and living in an isolated island is different and I like it. You depend on the land and what it has to offer. We don’t depend on cars or anything. I want people to have the same experience, one that is full of contentment… belief in going back to what is good,” he added.

Bea Cabrera | Correspondent
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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