Monday, 27 October 2008 00:00 By Zaldy Dandan - Variety Editor
Speaker Arnold I. Palacios says the marine monument proponents have unnecessarily divided the CNMI, pitting the islands’ communities against each other, all in the name of meeting the deadline imposed on the local people by the Philadelphia-based Pew group.
“That is why our constituents are suspicious about this sudden, well-financed and full-blown campaign run by Pew,” Palacios, R-Saipan, said in an interview of Friday. “Why are they rushing it? Why are we being forced to make a decision now? Aren’t we also entitled to carefully think about an issue that concerns our islands and our people? Or do they believe they know better than us about our own islands and we should just defer to their wisdom? This is not acceptable.”
He said Pew should have worked with the local community instead of insisting on its own “deadline.”
After the Variety asked Pew, through e-mail, for a comment, a statement yesterday from “The Friends of the Monument” was e-mailed to this newspaper, stating that the Friends “spent four months collecting signatures in support of the designation of a marine monument in the CNMI. 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.”
According to Palacios, CNMI officials have been, and are still, willing to “sit down” with Pew and the White House to discuss the proposal that would designate the waters surrounding the northern islands of Maug, Asuncion and Uracas as a federally protected area.
The speaker believes, however, that President Bush will still sign the monument designation proclamation despite the concerns raised by the CNMI officials.
“Where is the science backing up this proposal? Why is it that a decision involving our islands was made thousands of miles away and is now being imposed on us, whether we like it or not?” Palacios asked.
He said the CNMI government will insist that the local people “will continue to have access to our own resources.”
When told that some monument proponents believe that CNMI officials opposed to it are “not speaking” for the people who put them in office, the speaker replied, “That’s an unfortunate statement to make. But a lot of our constituents are actually urging us to be more vocal against the monument.”
Another lawmaker, Rep. Stanley T. Torres, R-Saipan, said “some of my constituents may be supporting it, but a lot of them oppose it.”
House Floor Leader Joseph N. Camacho, R-Saipan, earlier said that their constituents may not be as “vocal” as Pew’s “friends,” but “they’re against it and they told us they’re against it.”
The Fitial administration, the Legislature and the CNMI mayors are opposed to the monument proposal.
Palacios said to settle the issue of public support, he is willing to introduce a bill calling for a referendum on the issue.
“Let’s put it on the ballot,” he added.
Echoing a similar statement from Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Torres said the CNMI may change its mind about the proposal “if the feds give us back our submerged lands.”
Federal courts have ruled that the U.S. government “owns” the CNMI’s submerged lands.