OVERDUE LAND COMPENSATION
Majority of the House of Representatives supports the Torres administration’s plan to settle some of the judgments against the CNMI government—either court cases or land compensation—to stop the overdue amount from accruing added interest. The House passed House Bill 19-213 yesterday before going on recess; they plan to resume session today at 10am.
HB 19-213 would amend Chapter 3 Section 302 (e) of Public Law 19-75.
Section 302 (e) states that $9 million will be set aside from the supplemental budget to pay for land compensation and/or other judgments.
Payment shall be paid in the following priority: (A) judgments and settlements between $1 and $50,000 shall be paid in full; and (B) judgments and settlements over $50,000 shall be paid on a proportional basis.
On a vote of 15-1, the House passed HB 19-21.
Two—Reps. Ramon Tebuteb A. Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) and Edwin P. Aldan (Ind-Tinian)—did not cast their votes.
Rep. Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) voted no.
Reps. Francis S. Taimanao and Ralph N. Yumul were excused due to personal reasons.
The $9 million would settle six cases, including $3 million intended for the heirs of Maria Mangabao (civil case number 96-0266, CNMI vs. Lot Number 353 New-G). The $3 million is 16 percent of the $18,498,088.01 total judgment.
Manglona vs. CNMI (civil case no. 97-0486) would be getting $900,000; the Marianas Public Lands Authority vs. the heirs of Rogolifoi (civil case no. 05-0197) will get $700,000 or 26 percent of $2,690.020.07; $500,000 each for Lizama vs. Department of Public Lands (civil case no. 08-149) and Tano Group vs. Department of Public Works (civil case no. 05-0100); and $00,000 or 70.3 percent of the $568,966.82 in Estate of Muna vs. CNMI (civil case no. 96-0796.
The Mangabao and Rogolifoi heirs, estate of Muna, and Lizama vs. DPL are settlement cases that are related to land compensation judgment.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who last week signed P.L. 19-75, said he had already talked to four of the six parties involved in the cases who signified their intention to cooperate. “Four of the six are very much willing to sign an agreement on the settlement.”
“It gives us time to negotiate and they are willing to sit down, meet with the families to work out on settling the judgment. We will sign the agreement once we get the appropriation, then we’ll turn it to the court to recognize it, then make the payment.”
These are the six biggest cases; some of them have not been settled since 1996. “Let’s make our payment now, settle it to stop the interest from accruing.”
Edward Arriola, the attorney of Maria Mangabao’s heirs, said in a public comment that HB 19-213 is highly discriminatory against Carolinians. He mentioned that two of the four land compensation settlement cases involve Carolinians, the reason for the disproportionate payment.
He added that the Mangabao case that he’s representing will only be getting 16.2 percent of the total amount of the judgment, while the Rogolifoi heirs will get 26 percent while Tano Group vs. DPW, which is not even a land compensation judgment, is appropriated more than half of what the government owes them.
“I believe this bill is the result of my motion filed in court after PL 19-75 was signed. The motion is to compel the Finance secretary to pay the heirs $6.8 million pursuant to PL 19-75, the proportionate amount of all judgments due and owing now by the government. The payment for specific persons is highly discriminatory; it discriminates specifically to Carolinians.”
The government owes $24,542,165.46 in total land compensation judgment plus interest; out of that the stipulated judgment is $18,715,218.29. The amount would further increase after Jan. 4.2017, where $2,860 would be accrued thereafter.
Arriola said nothing or no one could stop the interest from piling up. “There’s no agreement and before any agreement can be done, it has to be approved by the court. Presently there’s no approval from the court, there is no petition for any judgment to be settled.”
He, however, applauded Torres for his move to settle the judgment. “He is the only governor who sought payment of the judgments due since 1993. The original judgment on my client is $4 million; today it is almost $19 million because of the delay.”
House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) said most of the parties involved have come to an agreement. “Some are still ongoing discussion but nevertheless we got them to the negotiating table. These are not full but partial payments. The governor came here to explain everything before the bill passed the House.
”Most are coming to an agreement, some are still ongoing discussion but nevertheless all will go through the court. The money appropriated here is not to satisfy the full amount, but to get the parties to agree to an amount and negotiate with them so next year and after that would have some kind of settlement agreements.”
Vice speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) also clarified that the bill’s intention is not to settle land compensation judgments. “The intent is to pay for those cases whose interest continue to accrue. There are other cases that accrue interest of $5,000 or $7,000 a day, not only $2,800. It is just to stop the bleeding.”
“It does not say it would be given proportionately. It has to be an offer acceptable to all parties, for them to agree and take to court. These are families who waited for decades but are now going to get paid.”
“After all these years, we don’t have the ability to pay since the 15th Legislature. There have been no sources of funds. This is an attempt to stop the bleeding, this is the first step.”
Rep. Antonio P. Sablan (Ind-Saipan) said the CNMI government should take advantage of the current situation where it now has the opportunity to pay these judgments. “We’ve heard from the governor, that he’s confident with the ongoing negotiations.”
“Let us not delay this further and don’t keep them waiting. The money has already been collected and the governor would identify additional revenue from the business gross revenue tax.”
Rep. Roman C. Benavente (Ind-Saipan) said the families now have the chance to get the money that they waited for years. “Now they can get the money that is due them after years of waiting. I personally know some people involved in these cases.”
“The governor is confident that there would be more funds coming in that would support these people to get the money that they deserve. Let us not wait too long. The longer we wait, they may not get the opportunity to receive it.”
Rep. Vinnie Sablan (Ind-Saipan) echoed the sentiment. “No more accrued interest if the judgments get paid. We should take care of the judgment so no more interest. The bill would take of this.”