Department of Public Lands Secretary Marianne Teregeyo said her agency is always open to any member of the community who has questions about certain land deals. The former Department of Lands and Natural Resources special sdvisor to the secretary made the statement after addressing House of Representatives members regarding House Bill 19-82.
HB 19-82 aims to abolish DPL and establish the Marianas Lands Corp. with a board of trustees having the power to manage and control public lands in the CNMI. Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro (R-Saipan) introduced the bill.
Teregeyo read DPL’s position paper during the public comments in yesterday’s session at the House chamber. She said that it would be unconstitutional if the bill passes and becomes law.
She added that she had already made an objection when she testified in a committee hearing last year. “The way the bill is set up, it is unconstitutional. A lot of the questions that the bill raised, like the advisory board, had already been addressed and are now in effect.”
“We are open if someone has any questions about. Our books and doors are always open. Anyone who wants to question any land deal, we are open for scrutiny by the Legislature and to the public,” said Teregeyo.
“We’re very prudent and have been managing the department very efficiently. We are doing our best at the department. Best for you to come and check us, we’re always happy and ready to assist,” Teregeyo said.
She added that some of the issues in the bill like having an advisory board, having monthly meetings, and land compensation dealings have been addressed. She made the clarification after reports and a comment by Connie C. Togawa that the DPL had one questionable land deal.
Teregeyo said they gave the Office of the Public Auditor access to DPL documents when she became the head early this year. “OPA investigated one case and we don’t know the result of the investigation. We gave them everything and just opened all the files.”
From MPLA to DPL
Teregeyo said all the issues that were raised in the bill are irrelevant. “The main thing is it is unconstitutional. Before the department was under the board. The board had some questionable deals, that is coming from the committee report, that’s why the board was dissolved.”
DPL was a former division under DLNR and became a separate department in 2006 after then governor Benigno R. Fitial signed HB 15-57 that became PL 15-2, which also abolished the Marianas Public Lands Authority.
Teregeyo said she is asking the Legislature not to act on HB 19-82 and completely remove it from their order of business. “I’m against it and don’t support the bill. We reject it strongly. All issues in that bill have been addressed.”
“Keep in mind that the bill was drafted almost a year and a half ago, between that time and now, all have been addressed. One of the questions was the board never met. I attend the advisory board meetings and we already had two this month so far,” said Teregeyo.
The Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Northern Islands Mayors nominate one member each for the advisory board with one appointed by the governor. Henry Hofschneider (Saipan), David Evangelista (Tinian), Antonio Quitugua (Rota), William Torres (Northern Islands), and Manuel Mangarero (governor’s appointee) are the DPL advisory board members.
Two made their public comments yesterday, from both sides—in favor of abolishment and not in favor. Connie C. Togawa, a former chairperson of the Land Commission that later became Land Registration, was in favor of abolishing DPL, while Bernardo Cruz was against it.
Togawa said DPL’s problem now is its decision making. “Some land transactions are illegal, and have not been reviewed and rectified,” said Togawa, who’s been working on land matters since 1957 and was certified as an expert witness on all land matters by the CNMI Supreme Court.
“I’m seeing irregularities on the way they are giving out land. It is inappropriate and only one is making the decisions. They have an advisory board but they have no power,” added Togawa.
Cruz, on the other hand, does not support DPL being abolished after MPLA took 18,000 square meters of his land in Tanapag and was not properly compensated. “I stand by myself and the witnesses. I want you to rethink your decision regarding DPL, which have been trying to correct the past mistakes.”