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Torres asks status about proposed HJR on military activities

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Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has followed up with the House Committee on Federal & Foreign Affairs on the status of the administration’s proposed substitute version of House Joint Resolution 21-008, HS1, pertaining to the government’s position to expanded military activities in the CNMI.

In his letter Wednesday to House Committee on Federal & Foreign Affairs chair Rep. Luis John Castro (Ind-Saipan), Torres said he is aware that legislators are now focused on the Nov. 3 elections but it has been three weeks since their meeting and his understanding is that Castro has yet to meet with his committee members to adopt the substitute version that he had submitted.

“I would greatly appreciate any update you can provide to my office on this matter,” said Torres in the letter to Castro.

A day after Torres’ letter, Castro notified Torres that he called for a committee meeting on Friday, Oct. 23, at 10am in the House chamber to discuss the substitute version of the House joint resolution. Castro invited Torres or his representative to meet with the committee’s members to discuss this version as its content are different from the substitute that they previously adopted. Castro said that any feedback from the governor and/or his designated representative will be appreciated during this dialogue.

The lawmaker acknowledged that the committee has not been able to convene previously, as they were faced with issues surrounding the passage of the budget bill for fiscal year 2021 and each committee member were attending to matters both office-related and personal.

The original version of House Joint Resolution 21-08, as authored by Rep. Sheila Babauta (D-Saipan), requested Torres to oppose “any increase in military presence or training in the Northern Mariana Islands, including all proposed military use of the Northern Islands.”

Last July, the House panel approved a version that uses the word “supporting” instead of “requesting” in the title. The revised House panel’s version now stated that the 21st Legislature is “supporting” Torres in “his continued opposition to any increase in destructive military training and testing in the Northern Mariana Islands.”

Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios then met with Castro, Babauta, and Rep. Joel Camacho (R-Saipan) last Sept. 21 to discuss the joint resolution. At that meeting, Torres submitted the administration’s proposed substitute version with a title that states, “To acknowledge and support the Honorable Governor Ralph DLG Torres in his continued efforts to ensuring adequate protection for the natural resources, economy, culture, environment, and the health and quality of life in the Northern Mariana Islands related to expanded military activities in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

In his letter to Castro, Torres said their Sept. 21 meeting gave them the opportunity to share the efforts that have been done in the last five years and of the administration’s continuing efforts in addressing the military activities and the U.S. Department of Defense’s proposed program in the Commonwealth.

Torres said he believes that everyone walked away from that meeting with a better understanding of the critical importance in forging a collective effort for the best approach in responding to military matters. The governor said it is for this reason and in the spirit of cooperation that he submitted a proposed substitute version of the House joint resolution during that meeting.

He said Babauta, the author of the original joint resolution, fully endorsed and agreed to the substitute version’s adoption by the committee.

Torres reiterated the intent of the proposed substitute version is to capture the totality of all military activities in the CNMI in one official document. He said the document lays out the chronological timeliness and activities of each initiatives, how they each progressed, and of the efforts by the CNMI government over the years to ensure adequate protection of the lands, resources and environment. The governor said the substitute version also addresses each of the concerns that are expressed in the current version of the House joint resolution.

“The evolving views of our people and differing actions taken by our government in the past decade makes it absolutely necessary to have an official record that documents the historical information to provide members of our community and our future generation a resource document to refer to in order to have a full understanding of the totality of military initiatives here at home,” Torres said.

The governor reminded Castro that he deferred to Babauta as the mover of the House joint resolution for the committee’s consideration of his proposed substitute version. He said that, in that meeting, Babauta expressed her full support as it provides a comprehensive historical information that would serve as an educational resource for people.

Torres said they concluded the meeting with the clear understanding that Castro will include his proposed substitute version into the agenda to be acted on at the next committee meeting.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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