Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Lawmakers split on group's push for Article 12 repeal in 2011
By Haidee V. Eugenio
Lawmakers are split on whether to support a repeal of Article 12 and members who support such move are further split on how to go about it-through a legislative initiative, popular initiative, or constitutional convention.
The Citizens for Change of Article 12 Inc. or CCA12, a non-profit group, delivered a presentation on Article 12 of the CNMI Constitution yesterday morning in the House chamber on Capital Hill for members of the House of Representatives and Senate.
Only 15 of the 29 lawmakers showed up, and not all of them stayed throughout the presentation.
Most of them, however, agree with CCA12 that discussion of Article 12 is paramount.
CCA12 volunteer members and officers Atty. Vince Seman, David Sablan, Alex Sablan, and Rose White took turns explaining the adverse impact of Article 12 on families, businesses, the economy, and the CNMI in general.
Article 12 stipulates that only persons of Northern Marianas descent may buy or own land in the CNMI.
“Let's do away with Article 12. Why prolong the agony? Why do we and our children need to continue to suffer from Article 12? You are the lawmakers. You can put the initiative (to repeal Article 12) on the ballot in 2011,” CCA12's David Sablan said.
Rep. Rosemond Santos (R-Saipan), along with Senate Pres. Pete P. Reyes (R-Saipan) and Rep. Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan), asked CCA12 for statistics on the number of families and businesses adversely impacted by the land alienation provision of the Constitution.
They also asked whether CCA12 has drafted a legislative initiative or a popular initiative to repeal Article 12.
“I'm not questioning the motive behind the repeal. But convince us with statistics that there are families and businesses on island affected by Article 12,” said Reyes.
Seman said the group will be compiling such statistics or list, and is now working on a draft initiative.
Rep. Diego T. Benavente (R-Saipan) said the inability of CNMI children and families to own the land that's been passed on to them by their family members is proof itself that Article 12 is affecting the community.
Benavente, in an interview after the CCA12 presentation, said it is up to the voters to decide whether to repeal Article 12.
“At this point, there's enough argument and reason to consider this. I support presenting this to the people who will need to decide about it,” he said.
Santos, when interviewed, said she'd rather support a constitutional convention over legislative initiative or popular initiative.
During discussion, House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) said it's not for the Legislature to decide whether to repeal Article 12, adding that this will be best dealt with through popular initiative.
Rep. Tina Sablan said she would support a legislative initiative and the Legislature should not decline to act on such an important issue.
“In the end, the Article 12 question will of course be decided by the people. But I see no reason why the Legislature should simply leave it to the people just to get the question on the ballot at all. The CNMI Constitution both establishes Article XII and also empowers the Legislature to propose changes to the constitution through legislative initiative,” she said.
She said she would encourage citizen groups to go ahead and launch a popular initiative in order to encourage the next Legislature to act, and to be prepared in the event that the Legislature fails to act.
“And if passing a legislative initiative on Article XII is important to the citizens of the CNMI, then now would be the time to start asking legislative candidates whether or not they would support such a legislative initiative, and how they would frame the Article XII question if elected,” she added.
Rep. Stanley Torres (R-Saipan), for his part, said he'd support a legislative initiative.
In separate interviews, Rep. Ramon A. Tebuteb (R-Saipan) and Rep. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) said they'd choose popular initiative to repeal Article 12.
Any constitutional amendment may be proposed by a constitutional convention of elected delegates, a popular initiative, or a legislative initiative.
The question of whether to hold a constitutional convention must be submitted to voters no later than 10 years after the question was last submitted.
An amendment proposed by constitutional convention is ratified if it is approved by a majority of the votes cast and at least two-thirds of the votes cast in two of three existing senatorial districts.
An amendment proposed by popular initiative is submitted to voters if petitions proposing the amendment are signed by at least 50 percent of the persons qualified to vote in the CNMI and at least 25 percent of the persons qualified to vote in each senatorial district.
Like an amendment proposed by constitutional convention, an amendment proposed by popular initiative is ratified if it is approved by a majority of the votes cast and at least two-thirds of the votes cast in two of three existing senatorial districts.
An amendment proposed by legislative initiative is submitted to voters if the legislative act proposing the amendment is approved by at least three-fourths of the members of each house of the Legislature present and voting.
In contrast to amendments proposed by constitutional convention or popular initiative, an amendment proposed by legislative initiative is ratified if it is approved simply by a majority of the votes cast.
CCA12, which has been stimulating anew the discussions on the importance of abolishing Article 12, says doing away with the land alienation provision is not the end of the Chamorro and Carolinian cultures, which they say those opposed to the idea want the public to believe.
The group said persons originally designated as Northern Marianas Descent (NMD) were not exclusively Chamorros and Carolinians.
Others who oppose a repeal of Article 12 said if those who believe the CNMI Constitution's land alienation clause is discriminatory, then they must also believe that the Covenant agreement is discriminatory.
Section 805 of the Covenant allows the CNMI to revisit its land alienation restrictions 25 years after the termination of the Trusteeship Agreement in 1986. That 25-year period will end in 2011.
CCA12 has been citing examples of inequality brought by Article 12. For example, a Chinese or Korean baby adopted by a Chamorro parent is considered 100 percent NMD and therefore can own land even though the baby does not have a Chamorro blood.
On the other hand, according to the group, the child of a Chamorro who marries someone from the United States mainland or from Asia is considered only 50 percent NMD despite having at least one biological parent who is a Chamorro.
When the child with Chamorro blood marries a non-NMD and bears a child, that child is considered only 25 percent NMD. That child's child, even if he has a Chamorro blood, could no longer own the land that would be passed down to him by her parents, grandparents or great grand parents.
CCA12 also said that Article 12 forces people to marry only NMDs just so they can continue to own land.
The group is open to discuss Article 12 with anyone interested, including schools, business groups, non-profit groups and government agencies.