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    Saturday, March 24, 2018-6:10:24P.M.






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OPINION: Regarding S.B. 20-35

HAFA Adai Chairwoman Alice Santos-Igitol, Chairman Francisco Borja and members of the House and Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Resources, Economic Development & Programs.

Un dangkulu na si Yu’us Ma’asi for seeking our comment with respect to an important piece of legislation on the disposition of public land, S.B. 20-35, SD3, HD1.

On behalf of Matua Council for Chamorro Advancement, I humbly take this opportunity to once again reiterate our OPPOSITION to the intent of Senate Bill 20-35, SD3, HD1 authored by Senate President Arnold Palacios. This public policy, as it is written, is still centered around and more towards the best interest of the investors.

However, we appreciate and are cognizant on the significant amendments offered by Chairman Borja and members of the Senate Committee on REDP in amending the original proposed Senate bill from 75 years to 55 years lease term on all future public land leases.

We also appreciate and acknowledge the effort of the Senate Committee on REDP on the addition of specific language regarding new terms and conditions and “possible terms and conditions” on new public land leases to include existing public land leases that are about to expire, such as infrastructure development, job training and various financial assistance programs for “CNMI residents.”

However, the language pertaining to infrastructure development should not be restrictive to the respective development site. Additionally, programs and services that will be offered by the Lessee or developer in terms of financial contribution to “an independent job training program or scholarship fund” must be exclusive to benefit the beneficiaries of public lands because the leased land are “trust lands.”

We continue to advocate that this type of legislation impacts the core mandate of our policies and disposition of public lands that bore responsibility towards the beneficiaries. We must continue to be cognizant that one of the fundamental values of our agreement with the United States of America under the Covenant §805, which is one of the foundations to our established relationship — is the management and disposition of public lands or “trust lands.”

Hence, it should and must be the mission, vision and goal of all public policy on the disposition of public lands to ensure the continued improvement of the quality and standard of living of the beneficiaries of these lands.

It is important to reiterate that it has been over 40 years since the formation of the first constitutional government and the transfer of all public lands (or aboriginal lands) from the United States government as “trustee” of the formerly United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to our Commonwealth government, who are now the current “trustee” of these public lands.

This fact is reiterated in the “United Nations Trusteeship Council Hearing Transcripts” of May 24, 1974 — where “public lands include all lands acquired by the prior Spanish, German and Japanese administrations for governmental or other public purposes as well as such lands as the Trust Territory government may itself have utilized for public purposes.”

Further, “according to calculations (at the time) over 60 percent of total land area is public land — by district 90 percent in the Marianas.” And “68 percent in Palau, 66 percent in Pohnpei, 17 percent in Chuuk, 13 percent in the Marshalls, and 4 percent (are public lands) in Yap.”

It imperative to ensure that our contemporary public policy acknowledge the fact that the so-called “public land” were in fact aboriginal lands owned by the native inhabitants — the Chamorros prior to Spanish colonization or the unauthorized theft of our aboriginal lands. Hence, an international human rights violation in the illegal acquisition and transfer of indigenous landownership and rights by the Spanish colonial government.

Yet, there are thousands of Chamorro families who are still on the Homestead waiting list; and some have waited for two decades. It is disheartening to know that some of the beneficiaries of public lands are recipients of free or subsidized housing under the United States Fair Housing — Section 8 housing voucher program.

Further, the Department of Public Lands has ceased accepting new Homestead application since April 2006 in the Third Senatorial District, Saipan where majority of the Chamorro population in the NMI reside. This DPL policy was effective during the former Governor Benigno R. Fitial’s administration and up until this date.

It is also during the Fitial administration when Public Law 15-2 entitled “Public Lands Act of 2006” was enacted. This law impacts and placed greater hardship on the lives of our Taotao Tano, i Chamorros. We must acknowledge that through cultural, historical, archaeological and scientific evidentiary sources — the Chamorros are the true owners of these lands for over 3,500 years; and have been subjected to at least three colonial powers – Spain, Germany and Japan for almost 400 years; and now the United States. We must recognize and acknowledge this fact.

Yet, our indigenous population, the Chamorros. continues to top the list in the Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps program; including unemployment rate.

These socio-economic issues are inconsistent with the intent of the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement, the Covenant and the Constitution to ensure that the beneficiaries of public lands attain a quality and higher standard of living.

Again, it is our fervent hope that the members thoroughly and carefully review and evaluate the impact of this legislation on our people, especially on the future generation of beneficiaries of our scarce and invaluable asset — Land.

We must ensure that programs and services as a result of the land lease; and proceeds of land lease payments and fees shall directly benefit the beneficiaries; and especially the Chamorros who are the aboriginal, native inhabitants and indigenous of these lands.

It is our advocacy intent that when we oppose public policy that we also provide for comments and recommendations for the members of the House NR and Senate REDP committee and the Legislature to consider; and are as follows:

1.In amending 1 CMC § 2806 (c) – 1) the extension of public land lease term “up to 40 years plus an extension up to 15 years for a total of 55 years in order to attract new investors and to give investors more options for financing with a longer lease term.”

It is important to ensure that the public lands are not encumbered as a result of financial schemes to finance a developers’ investment or project on the leased land.

Additionally, all terms and conditions including new and renewal of all public lands regardless of size of land, and up to 55 years public land lease term must be approved unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

This public policy ensures a strict scrutiny and direct participation of those elected by the beneficiaries on the disposition and management of the trust land or public land. Hence, this standard suffices the strict fiduciary care by DPL and the Legislature.

More importantly, the Legislature must ensure provision in (this) proposed legislation to mandate the Historic Preservation Office and Indigenous Affairs Office to identify and protect all ancient Chamorro settlement sites (e.g. latte sites, burial sites, cultural and traditional sites) located within the public lands throughout the NMI; and to recommend to the U.S. National Registry for permanent protection of our irreplaceable and invaluable cultural heritage as Taotao Tano.

This will provide investors and developers a guideline on development in the NMI to ensure that proper protocol is in place when such site is encountered in the process.

We shall never repeat the atrocity that happened to our 400 plus ancient Chamorro ancestors who have settled at the ancient village and burial site at i Sengsong Anaguan since 1100 A.D.

The destruction by Scientific Consultants Services, Inc. of Honolulu , Hawaii as the contracted archaeologist of Imperial Pacific International and Best Sunshine International — the desecration of hundreds of our ancestors’ graves and thousands of their artifacts was approved by Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres, AG Edward Manibusan, former DPL secretary Pedro A. Tenorio, former DCCA secretary Laura T. Ogumoro, HPO director Mertie Towai-Kani, former HPO board members and chairman Pedro Duenas, former BECQ administrator Frank Rabauliman, including the Zoning board members and chairman Diego Blanco.

2.Further, in amending 1 CMC § 2806, public notice on specific public land shall be published not less than 90 days in the local newspaper and a decent number of publications. Important notices regarding the disposition of public lands shall not be reduced to 15 days or be subjected to “eight times during two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the Commonwealth and by posting in convenient places in the civic center and in local government offices in each senatorial district…” as what is being proposed here and consistent with P.L. 15-2.

Notices shall be accessible both in print and broadcast media outlets and duration of not less than ninety (90) days with a justiciable number of intervals throughout the period to give our people ample time to be noticed.

Furthermore, the public land lease terms and conditions must be accessible to the beneficiaries in print, broadcast and online. And there needs to be public hearings throughout the NMI in order to keep the beneficiaries informed on the benefits; and an opportunity for the beneficiaries to participate in the decision making process.

3.In amending 1 CMC § 2807, “to authorize the Department to first negotiate a new public land lease with certain existing public land lessees that have existing hotels or golf courses on the lased property under new terms and consideration before publishing a request for proposal for other interested parties.”

It is important to ensure that the existing public land lessees “with five years or less remaining on the lease…” should actually be given notice for renewal of not less than five (5) years before the expiration of the lease; and not to include those who still have “10 years” remaining on their lease as what is now being proposed in this amendment.

The “not less than five years” lease notice condition will provide definite timeline to give existing lessees ample time to plan for lease options or recoup their investment in the CNMI. There is no data that supports a need for a lease negotiation on those leases that still have “10 years” or one decade “remaining on the lease in order to give existing lessees more time to recoup investments in the CNMI.”

Ten years or one decade is too long to begin a renewal lease negotiation as financial conditions fluctuates and are volatile especially for investments in the Asia-Pacific region from our experience since the 1980s and 1990s (e.g. Japan’s recession, Nikko Hotel, Dai-Ichi Hotel, Grand Hotel; pull out of Japan Airlines, Korean Airlines, Northwest Airlines, closure of the garment industry as a result of the U.S. presidential political agenda in the negotiation of WTO and NAFTA) that greatly affected our economy that also directly impacted public land leases.

4.Again, we have to take careful consideration in (this) proposed amendment to 1 CMC §2807 “(1) Rental based on at least two new appraisals of the property to be leased, including but not limited to the improvements thereon. The appraisal shall be performed by at least one appraiser who is a member of the American Society of Appraisers.”

It is important that those contracted to provide appraisal work for public lands should not be less than three new appraisals; and must be performed by an appraiser who is a member of the American Society of Appraisers or APA. The valuation of our scarce resource, land, shall be provided by a person or company that have been credentialed and certified as qualified property appraiser by a credited U.S. national organization such as the APA.

This is critically important to ensure that those who are providing such service performance shall be bonded or insured to ensure that their work product has integrity or reliable and guaranteed.

Additionally, financial support for infrastructure development other than at the investment development site shall be focused at homestead or agricultural development sites. Job training and scholarship financial programs that are envisioned in the “possible terms and conditions” in the new lease shall be focused on the beneficiaries of the lands to be consistent with the expressed intent of the Covenant and the Constitution.

Again, as proposed in S.B. 20-35, SD3, HD1, it should not be “possible terms and conditions”; but all terms and conditions including new and renewal of all public lands regardless of size of land, and up to 55 years public land lease term to ensure the greatest possible benefits are extended to the beneficiaries of the land.

Benefits and proceeds shall be directed to the development of homestead, agriculture lots, Indigenous Affairs Office or the Chamorro Affairs Office; and any organization whose mission is to advocate for the advancement of the Taotao Tano, i Chamorros shall be recipients of the proceeds under the “terms and conditions.”

I remain humble and look forward to this honorable committee to consider the comments and amendments as proposed and recommended herewith to S.B. 20-35, SD3, HD1; and to also embark on further public engagements to discuss positive options with the stakeholders to this proposed bill to reach a comprehensive legislation that will ensure greatest protection and benefit for the generations of Chamorro children; including your grandchildren who are ultimately the beneficiaries of these aboriginal trust lands or what is contemporarily referenced as “public lands.”

Si Yu’us Ma’asi.