By Stefan Sebastian
The final tally of the signatures on a grassroots petition in support of the Bush administration's bid to establish a national marine monument in the waters around three of the CNMI's northern islands will have to be revised after a review of it found scores of duplicate names.
Last week, Friends of the Monument, a community group rallying local support for the White House's proposal, released the results of four months worth of work by volunteers, who canvassed the streets of Saipan gathering signatures for the petition.
After compiling the names, the total they unveiled stood at 5,502 signatories. However, an independent review of only one segment of the petition conducted on an Excel spreadsheet by an anonymous critic of the proposal and provided to the Saipan Tribune-which published all of the names on the petition in an advertisement-suggests that at least 28 of the signatures are shown on it twice.
After combing through of many of the names published, a Tribune reporter had confirmed in a cursory review at press time that seven of the names highlighted by the spreadsheet review are, in fact, duplicates.
On Sunday, Friends of the Monument answered a request for comment on the petition issue with a statement.
“The Friends of the Monument spent four months collecting signatures in support of the designation of a marine monument in the CNMI,” the statement says. “More than 60 volunteers spent hundreds of hours collecting more than 5,600 signatures at street fairs, local stores, and other gatherings. It represents one of the largest one-on-one information and outreach efforts ever undertaken in the CNMI and represents literally thousands of individual conversations. We do not believe that this sort of grassroots democracy should be discounted.”
The Friends of the Monument petition has previously become the subject of controversy. In a recent letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality chief James Connaughton, a letter that they later retracted after talks, Gov. Benigno Fitial and local political leaders contended the monument's supporters have appealed to “poorly informed school children,” tourists, foreign workers, and CNMI residents who hail from off-island locales to gain signatures for the petition. Consequently, they argued, it does not reflect the sentiments of the CNMI's people.
“[W]e believe the list contains the names of foreign national workers who, pursuant to the recent federalization of our immigration have short-term interests in the CNMI, and tourists who, frankly, should not have a say in the governance of either the [CNMI] or the United States of America,” the letter says. “We feel there are many duplicate names and we question the integrity of the petition.”
Word of the duplicate signatures on the petition comes after critics of the proposed monument last week also came under criticism for bullying members of the Man'amko Advisory Council to sign a resolution in opposition to it. Opponents of the plan have said previously they have collected signatures for a petition against the monument but have yet to issue their results.