While he personally does not support the total abolition of Article 12, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said that talks about possibly amending it is good for discussions and everyone in the Commonwealth should voice their opinion on the issue.
Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution limits landownership in the Commonwealth to persons of Northern Marianas descent, or NMD.
Responding to a question on the subject at his regular radio news briefing last Friday, Torres said that Article 12 is very sensitive to everyone and that he is going speak as an individual and as an NMD.
“I believe that it should never be abolished and that’s my take,” he said.
As for talks about amending Article 12, that’s another matter.
“ At the end of the day, as long as it goes back to our NMDs, that’s the most important part,” said the governor, adding that CNMI lands doesn’t grow and the population continues to increase.
Torres cited Hong Kong as an example, in which had a lease of 99 years on the territory from Great Britain. After 99 years, he said, Hong Kong went back to China. “Look at Hong Kong, how developed it is. My last recollection regarding like Manhattan, for example, is that a lot of those big skyscrapers are leased for 99 years,” the governor said.
Torres said he is open for discussion if the CNMI will extend the 55-year land lease to 99 years.
Senate Legislative Initiative 22-01, which Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) introduced, seeks to amend Article 12 to remove the restriction on the alienation of land in the CNMI.
The initiative’s first public hearing on Saipan last Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs at the Senate chamber drew many opponents, including the senator’s older brother.
Torres said he respects each other’s decision and different views on Article 12. “They all have different merits to Article 12. But personally, for me, I would like to maintain Article 12. It is the only thing that holds our identity and the opportunity for our children and grandchildren and the next generation after that,” he said.
In Hawaii, Torres said, the native Hawaiians are fighting to get their lands back to maintain whatever land they have.
“So to everyone, we’ve seen lot of comments, a lot of sentimental issues. But personally, for me, I would like to keep Article 12. If we need to amend it, that’s a good discussion to have,” he said.
He said he is a proud NMD and no matter where he goes, even when he was in the United States and going to school, he’s always been a proud Chamorro and a proud NMD. When he came back to the CNMI after studying in the U.S. mainland, land became more valuable to him he said.
“We can have arguments or debate regarding the value of the land may increase. If you sell it, you’re done.”
The governor said today a lot of the land leases that were done in the 1980s are now being looked at whether to extend their leases.
“ I hope that through all the comments, written or oral, this is the time for all of us,” he said.
Torres said everyone has an obligation and the duty to write in whether to support the proposed Senate initiative or not, whether he or she wants Article 12 to be abolished, or amended.
“ I urge that everyone here in the CNMI, regardless of your race, regardless of your age, regardless of your status, make it a point to write your opinion, or voice your opinion. Either way, it’s important that the Legislature and everyone in the community hear your sentiment on Article 12,” he said. “We continue that dialogue. But we need to protect our land.”
Hofschneider earlier stated that Senate Legislative Initiative 22-01 will allow NMD landowners to fully exercise their real property rights, and to reduce the NMD percentage of ownership interest in an NMD corporation.
Hofschneider clarified that the initiative applies only to private ownership and that public lands will not be affected by his proposed legislation.