‘Without casino, Retirement Fund would’ve been gone five years ago’


Juan M. Sablan, the outgoing chairman of the Commonwealth Casino Commission, left the panel last Thursday with parting words that credits the casino licensee in the CNMI with the continued survival of the NMI Retirement Fund and its reincarnation as the Settlement Fund.

At the CCC board meeting last week that was done via video conference, Sablan said the NMI Retirement or the Settlement Fund would have been gone five years ago without the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC’s casino.

On the last day of his term as CCC chairman, Sablan said he initially opposed the operation of a casino on Saipan, as proposed at that time by the Fitial administration. It was only later that he realized the potential revenue of the casino that will help the retirees and the CNMI economy.

He said it was this that sustained the Settlement Fund and he urged IPI to continue operating the casino. “We don’t want you to die,” said Sablan as he thanked IPI “for bearing with us.”

He said IPI is very fortunate to be on the island.

With the CCC as the regulatory arm of the casino, Sablan said it hurts him when he hears allegations of corruption involving the casino operation. He stressed that his goal since the very start was to ensure that the sole licensee, IPI, is in compliance with Public Laws 18-56 and 19-24 and other applicable laws and regulations.

Sablan said he is grateful to the late governor Eloy S. Inos for entrusting him the important task as a commissioner and that he is even more thankful to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for his support throughout the years.

In September last year, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood recalled that the status of the Retirement Fund was scary and devastating to the retirees six years ago.

“It’s a miracle we’ve survived this far,” the judge had said.

At the same CCC Thursday meeting, then-commissioner Alvaro A. Santos stated that he shares the sentiments of his colleagues, Sablan and Joe C. Reyes. Santos thanked IPI and all CCC staff for helping him during his term.

Then-commissioner Joe Reyes said he wished he could have done better in his term. “If I stepped on toes, my apology,” he said, without elaborating. He thanked other commissioners, all CCC staff, and CCC legal counsel Mike Ernest, and expressed hope that the incoming commissioners will be successful.

Later, the commissioners voted for Ramon M. Dela Cruz of Tinian to serve as an interim chairman effective last Friday. The commissioners also chose Diego M. Songao of Rota to serve as interim secretary effective last Friday, and CCC audit manager Charlie O. Atalig as acting executive director effective last Monday.

CCC held the election as the terms of Sablan, Reyes, and Santos, all representing Saipan, expired last Thursday. Dela Cruz and Songao have four more years to serve.

To replace them, Torres nominated CCC executive director Edward C. Deleon Guerrero, former House speaker Rafael S. Demapan, and former Zoning Board chair Mariano Taitano

The Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation conducted a public hearing last Monday for the confirmation of the three nominees. The appointment requires the advice and consent of the SNILD. If confirmed, Demapan, Taitano, and Deleon Guerrero will serve a four-year term, which will expire in April 2024.

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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