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House adopts resolution honoring Robert Arrington

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THE House of Representatives on Thursday adopted House Resolution 21-31 to “honor and appreciate Mr. Robert Arrington and his…YouTube channel ‘Deer Meat for Dinner’ for their efforts in promoting the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as a destination consisting of various wild animal-life for eco-tourism purposes.”

Prior to introducing the resolution, Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero said, “I know that this is a hot issue. The resolution is to honor the individual, not to [vindicate] the individual, so I will respect members [who do not] support the resolution.”

Reps. Edmund Villagomez, Luis John Castro, and Ralph N. Yumul asked that their signatures be removed from the resolution because they are members of the House Special Committee on Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures which is looking into, among other things, the governor’s Northern Islands promotion that involves Arrington.

Rep. Richard Lizama, a minority bloc member, also asked that his signature be removed from the resolution.

Not long after Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao ruled to place the resolution on the calendar, Rep. Tina Sablan voiced her opposition to the resolution, citing the environmental impact of activities that took place during the promotional trip, including the introduction of deer to Pagan.

“I would like to request that this resolution not be placed on [the] calendar today and instead be referred to committee. I know that the resolution is well-intentioned. I understand that it was drafted and pre-filed long before we knew very much about what transpired during the governor’s trips to the Northern Islands, but we do know more today,” she said.

“While I have nothing personal against Mr. Arrington or his ‘Deer Meat for Dinner’ YouTube channel, I do have very strong reservations about commending ‘Deer Meat for Dinner’ when this project is now under so much public scrutiny and is part of the special committee’s investigation of executive expenditures. I respectfully request that this resolution not be voted on today. It should instead be referred to committee, and the special committee that is investigating this and other executive expenditure should be allowed to do its work.”

 

Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero, back to the camera, talks about his resolution honoring YouTube star Robert Arrington during a House session  Thursday on Capital Hill. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

House Floor Leader John Paul P. Sablan noted that the speaker had already made his ruling.

 For his part, Speaker Attao said members could debate the resolution before voting on it.

Rep. Tina Sablan said the resolution, “as well-intentioned as it is, is an expression of support for what was believed to be an eco-tourism project. Eco-tourism, colleagues, is generally defined as ‘tourism that is directed towards the natural environment, and often towards pristine, sensitive, and threatened ecosystems in ways that are low impact and supportive of conservation.’ ”

She added, “Let’s be clear; what happened in the Northern Islands is not eco-tourism, not when it appears to involve the illegal transport and release of Sambar deer on Pagan; open and uncontrolled burning without a permit; fishing in the protected waters within the Marianas Trench marine monument; and possible violations of federal law.”

She said “certain conservation programs and partnerships that are now in place are actually in jeopardy because of the violations that occurred on this trip, violations that appear to have been condoned by our government, by the highest chief executive of our government, and this resolution, unfortunately, for all of its intentions, will only reinforce the notion that we do not respect our laws or value our environment.”

She said “there are many, many questions about this particular project that remain to be answered, including questions about all the laws that were violated, how much this cost in public funds, personnel, vehicles, boats, equipment, and other government resources, and whether this was truly for a public purpose.”

She said the House “should be mindful of the message that this resolution will send, and how it will reflect on this body to honor and commend a project that is the subject of so much public scrutiny, and now the subject of a special committee investigation. I cannot support this resolution.”

Rep. Leepan Guerrero, for his part, said they should not “crucify someone who is protecting our environment,” referring to Arrington.

He said if what was done on Pagan was wrong, then the House go after the mayor of the Northern Islands who allowed  such activities to take place, referring to Arrington starting a small fire as a means to repel bugs and insects around their campsite.

 

He urged his colleagues to stop debating and to just vote on whether or not to adopt the resolution. He then walked out of the chamber, but returned in time for the House vote.

Rep. Sheila Babauta, a minority bloc member, said: “I, too, agree that we need to ask ourselves what message we are sending our community with this resolution. Our people are being furloughed, many have gone without income for the past several months, vendors are awaiting payment, anxiety and depression rates are high because of financial worry within the home, yet we somehow found the funding for this trip.”

She added, “Could we have promoted our own Northern Islands in a different way, promoted eco-tourism in our own way, using our own people, our own programs, our own local fishermen, hunters, and farmers [and] using our own voice? I believe so. Why haven’t we found the funding for that? Residents of the precious Northern Islands are still waiting to return home, yet we haven’t found funding for that.”

Rep. Richard Lizama said the resolution is “recognizing a person that we gave a free vacation [to]. We paid him, and we’re going to turn around and give him an award?... It was wrong timing [to bring] a person in to do a YouTube video, and [meanwhile] we [still] have people staying inside tents, still waiting.”

He added, “For the $59,000 [spent on the promotion], we could have given $5,000 to a person [who] really needs that money.”

Prior to the House vote, Rep. Leepan Guerrero recommended that the House Special Committee on the Fiscal Review of Executive Expenditures meet with the mayor of the Northern Islands, the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, and all parties involved in the Northern Islands promotional trip.

“I think even the kids [who were on the trip] because they’re ‘guilty’ for being there,” Guerrero added.

Rep. Tina Sablan  said she objects to any statement  implying that “anybody is guilty, at this point.”

She said the House committee has discussed calling in the particular agencies that Guerrero mentioned.

Guerrero reiterated that “everyone who was on the trip should be questioned by the special committee, including Arrington and the children….”

The House adopted the resolution by a vote of 11 in favor, five against and three abstentions.  One member was absent.

Those in favor were Rep. Leepan Guerrero, Speaker Attao, Floor Leader Sablan, Reps. Roman Benavente, Ivan Blanco, Antonio Borja, Joel Camacho, Joseph Flores, Jose Itibus, Janet Maratita, and Marco Peter.

Excluding Rep. Edmund Villagomez, who abstained, all members of the minority bloc voted no.

Vice Speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero abstained while. Rep. Ralph Yumul, a member of the special committee, did not cast a vote.

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