House joint resolution opposing increased military presence referred to committee

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

ON Friday, Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao referred to the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs  House Joint Resolution 21-8 which requests Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to oppose an increase in military presence or training in the Commonwealth. The House did not adopt the committee as erroneously reported earlier.

H.J.R. No. 21-8 was pre-filed by Rep. Sheila J. Babauta who said it was meant to be “pro-Marianas, not anti-military.”

An increase in military presence or training in the Commonwealth, most notably in the Northern Islands, has been an ongoing concern in the islands for years, with community members expressing deep concerns for its impacts, she said.

The gallery in the House chamber was packed with members of the community, and overflow seating was available right outside the chamber to accommodate the large crowd.

Public comments were made in support of the resolution by Guam Sen. Kelly Marsh-Taitano, Gary Sword of KKMP radio, members of Our Common Wealth 670, the Northern Marianas Descent Council, 500 Sails, and the Micronesian Islands Nature Alliance.

Commenters also included former Rep. Cinta M. Kaipat, a native of Pagan, who stated that she strongly supports H.J.R. 21-8.

“Nobody is saying that we are not grateful to the military for their assistance,” she said. “I guarantee you that whenever there is a disaster, the military swoops in to the community to help. What we are talking about [now] is far different. What we are talking about is the military that wants to come here for training purposes, which we support, and we understand, but not at the expense of our land. They are coming here to poison our land, poison our waters, take over our limited resources, our natural resources. Let us think about that.”

For her part, cultural anthropologist Isa Arriola provided comments based on her decade-long study on the social consequences of militarization in the Commonwealth.

Arriola said her studies began after she learned of the lack of public awareness on the environmental impact statements released under U.S. environmental law.

“The military plans just seemed to keep coming and coming, and people did not seem to have a grasp [of] what they can do about it. I can honestly tell you that now the community is not any more informed necessarily. In fact, the plans continue to be more and more complex, and more and more out of reach to the average citizen. You almost need to hire an environmental expert to get through these EISs,” said Arriola, referring to the Environmental Impact Studies.

She added, “To be clear, the military’s current plans, especially those laid out in the [CNMI Joint Military Training], are far beyond the scope of what is necessary for national security. If you look at what we have to give up, the plans laid out in the CJMT call for the use of Pagan, which, [to] my knowledge, was not in the Covenant negotiations. This is an island where community members want to resettle, where people have stories, where people have ties. Yet this is a place being eyed for 1,000-pound air bombardment practices, rocket missiles, mortar target areas, and a lot more.”

Arriola said an increase in military presence or training in the Northern Islands would not be revenue-generating, but according to studies, would, in fact, have a reverse effect with “little military money actually trickling down into local communities.”

She highlighted the environmental impacts, noting the unexploded ordnance in Marpi Point, as well as the contamination of CNMI waters. “These waters are not up for grabs. These waters are ancestral, and we must do everything we can to protect them. You should never have to feel, whether you are a service member or not, that you have to choose between national defense and the protection of your home.”

Speaker Attao and representatives of Our Common Wealth 670 met during a brief recess, and agreed to put together a packet with several documents, including comments and signatures from citizens who support H.J.R. 21-8.

Rep. Luis John Castro, who chairs the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs, announced that he will send out a notice for the committee to meet to further discuss the joint resolution.

Read more articles