[Saipan Tribune] CNMI House Passes Native Land Ownership Initiative
Lower blood quantum hoped to benefit future generations
By Haidee V. Eugenio
SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 28, 2013) – The House of Representatives unanimously passed yesterday afternoon Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro’s (R-Saipan) proposed change to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ Constitution’s Article 12 to allow any U.S. citizen with “at least some degree” of Chamorro or Carolinian blood to be considered a person of Northern Marianas descent (NMD) who can own land in the CNMI.
Another Article 12 initiative, authored by Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), was also introduced yesterday. It gives each landowner the option to subject their land to the current land alienation provision for “at least 25 years” before it could be removed.
Currently, only those with at least 25 percent NMD blood can own land in the CNMI under the NMI Constitution’s Article 12.
By a vote of 18-0 with two absences, the House passed Ogumoro’s House Legislative Initiative 18-1. This was more than the 14 votes required yesterday to pass.
This initiative still has to pass the Senate, for the question to be placed on the ballot in the 2014 general elections.
The ultimate decision rests with voters.
Ogumoro said her measure will help ensure that NMDs will be able to pass on their land to their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on, even if they fall below the current 25-percent NMD blood requirement.
She said she will also be seeking the Senate’s support for her initiative.
“I’m crossing my fingers. But I do know that they also recognize the importance of lowering that [blood quantum] so we can allow our kids, generations to come, to be qualified as persons of Northern Marianas descent to be able to own land,” Ogumoro said in an interview after the session.
HLI 18-1 proposes to amend Article 12, Section 4, “in order to legally provide that a person who has at least some degree of Northern Marianas Chamorro or Northern Marianas Carolinian blood and who is a citizen or national of the United States shall be deemed a bona fide person of Northern Marianas descent for all purposes under Article 12, upon providing evidence to the Superior Court.”
The court has to certify that a person is an NMD.
House members discussed the initiative at length before voting.
Rep. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian), during discussion, asked whether those who have not been certified by the court as a person of NMD could vote on the initiative.
Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan) also asked whether those who have not registered with the Northern Marianas Descent Registry would be precluded from voting on this initiative.
House counsel Joe Taijeron referred to Public Law 17-40, which states that only the Northern Marianas Descent Registry is the official registry of NMDs “in any and all elections that require only persons of Northern Marianas descent to vote in such election.”
Ogumoro said there have been some 5,000 who have registered with the NMD Registry to date.
“It is incumbent upon applicants to present documents or evidence that they are NMD, maybe a birth certificate and some other documents,” she said during the session.
Floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) also asked whether those NMDs who moved to Guam would also qualify.
Ogumoro referred Demapan to Section 4 of the initiative.
It says for purposes of determining NMD, a person shall be considered to be a full-blooded Northern Marianas Chamorro or Northern Marianas Carolinian if that person was born or domiciled in the Northern Mariana Islands by 1950 and was a citizen of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands before termination of the Trusteeship with the Commonwealth.
Rep. Roman Benavente (IR-Saipan) asked whether the 1950 timeline could be pushed back to Japanese era, to which House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) said the term NMD is a “political” definition rather than one that is based on “ethnicity” or “race.”
Press secretary Angel A. Demapan, when asked for the administration’s comment, said Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U Hofschneider are cognizant that after so many years, there are many NMDs who have families from interracial marriages and as a result, the administration views this latest initiative as “a valuable measure to ensure that landownership is not lost along these lines.”
“However, given the nature of any initiative, Gov. Inos and Lt. Gov. Hofschneider do recognize that the voters must be adequately educated about this issue as ultimately, the decision rests with them,” he told Saipan Tribune.
The House Natural Resources Committee chaired by Rep. Anthony T. Benavente (IR-Saipan) recommended the passage of the initiative “so our constituents can decide whether having at least some degree of Northern Marianas Chamorro or Northern Marianas Carolinian blood or a combination thereof or an adopted child of a person of Northern Marianas Descent if adopted while under the age of 18 years to acquire permanent and long-term interest in real property within the Commonwealth will be in their best interest.”
Another Article 12 initiative
The vice speaker also introduced yesterday House Legislative Initiative 18-4, removing the mandatory restriction on land alienation “and allow landowners to elect to restrict the alienation of their own land.”
“The restriction would be in place for at least 25 years before it could be removed. The initiative gives each landowner the option of either accepting or rejecting the restrictions of Article 12 in respect to their land,” Dela Cruz said in his initiative.
If they so choose, they have to file a declaration of restriction describing the property with the Commonwealth Recorder’s Office.
At least after 25 years after the filing, the owner in fee simple of restricted property may remove the restriction by filing a declaration of removal of that restriction.
In a brief interview before pre-filing the initiative, Dela Cruz said this is another way of addressing concerns about Article 12.
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