‘With a signature, all was lost’

Senate and Torres against marine monument

The CNMI has gotten for itself a mulligan—a chance to make another shot—at the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. This time, it wants a change in how the monument is managed. The Senate even wants the designation scrapped.

In a letter yesterday to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, representing the CNMI, pointed out that none of the promised benefits of the designation have been fulfilled.

The Senate itself was more scathing, saying in a resolution that national marine sanctuaries are “neither needed nor wanted” in the CNMI.

These came about after President Donald J. Trump issued Executive Order 13795, which directed the Interior Department to review national monument designations under the Antiquities Act, the federal law that empowers a president to designate protected areas. In line with this, the EO mandates Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to revisit the designation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, among other monuments.

Because of its current status, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument prohibits the fishing and mining extraction in the area and has remained so since January 2009.

During discussions back in 2009, an agreement between the CNMI and federal governments to designate the area as a national monument included the understanding that a co-management plan would be created between the two governments, an increase in patrols for illegal fishing in CNMI waters, and other incentives such as the establishment of a visitors center in the CNMI which could help alleviate the loss of access to natural resources.

According to Torres’ letter, none of that has happened.

“Although the CNMI does in general support the environmental goals and protections behind the creation of the [marine monument] as good stewards, we have since the designation of this monument under the Antiquities Act been required to carry the burden of an over-expansive federal program that should be reassessed,” said Torres.

In yesterday’s Senate session, Sen. Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan) introduced Senate Resolution 20-05, requesting that Zinke and Ross to restore the fishing and mining extraction rights “that were taken from the CNMI…to their rightful owners, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

SR 20-05 also states that national marine sanctuaries not be established in the CNMI as they are neither “needed nor wanted.

“I am highly favorable of this resolution,” said Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan). “With a signature, [all] was lost.”

He cited opposition to the designation by then-Guam governor Felix Camacho, Palau President Tommy Remengsau Jr., former governor Benigno R. Fitial, and other Micronesian executive heads of state at the time.

Sen. Paul Mangloña (Ind-Rota), was the only one that voted against the resolution. Mangloña said in a brief statement that he believes the resolution was done in haste and “wishes for more time to discuss.”

Pew supports designation

Angelo Villagomez of the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., noted that Palacios himself, who was the House speaker when the marine monument proposal was on the table, had supported the designation, along with former Senate president Pete Reyes.

Pew backed designating the Marianas Trench as a national monument since the late 2000’s.

“[SR 20-05] brings up some of the frustrations that the local people and the government have on the pace of development of the monument. We share those frustrations; we are also disappointed,” he said, adding that this doesn’t call for “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Villagomez said what the CNMI should have been doing is “asking for these benefits to happen,” referring to the unfulfilled promises by the federal government regarding the designation of marine monument.

“The Trump administration is particularly positioned to actually put these benefits to fruition,” he said.

When asked if he supports SR 20-05, he said: “No, I don’t support opening up our waters to industrial fishing. That’s what this resolution does.”

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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