House OK’s $20M for land compensation

THE House of Representatives on Friday approved a measure that appropriates a total of $20 million in land-compensation payments. Of the amount, over $16 million is for the Mangabao heirs.

It was Rep. Angel Demapan who introduced House Bill 20-103.

He said he has received information from the secretary of Finance that there is supplemental revenue in the amount of $28,067,951 available for appropriation.

He said $20.7 million of the amount will be appropriated to settle the government’s obligations to five estates. These long-standing obligations, he added, are accruing interest every year.

Nineteen members voted to pass House Bill 20-103, with Rep. Edwin Aldan abstaining as he is among the Mangabao heirs.

House Bill 20-103 appropriates the following:

• $16,291,736.36 for the Mangabao estate including accrued interest;

• $2,970,534.57 for the Rita Rogolofoi estate including interest;

• $858,533.21 for the Vicente S. Muna estate;

• $509,234.81 for the estate of Cresencio I. Manglona; and

• $83,553.08 for the Luisa B. Quitugua estate.

The remaining $7 million will fund, among other priorities, salary increases for the Public School System’s teachers amounting to $2.8 million, Rep. Angel Demapan said.

“Today, we appropriated $20.7 million to pay the major land-compensation obligations, saving the government $1 million in interest every year. So today is a good day as we’ve taken care of some of the government’s long-standing and biggest obligations. Although we still have outstanding land-compensation payments to take care of, we are taking this step and removing $20 million from our books which will help the government become more financially solvent. Our action today is reflective of our commitment to continue addressing land-compensation claims whenever revenue is available.”

He said PSS will get 25 percent of the $28 million in supplemental revenue. “So they will get $5 million, and there’s still $7 million available that has yet to be appropriated, so we have additional funds to take care of PSS’ needs.”

Michael Dotts, lawyer for a number of the heirs of the Mangabao estate, commended the House for stepping up its effort to settle the government’s obligations.

He said the case was first filed in 1997 and after 10 years of the case not moving forward, some heirs sought his legal advice to intervene. Dotts began representing the heirs in 2008.

He said the principal judgment was only $3 million but it has accrued interest — $2,888 each day — and the government ended up owing the estate over $19 million.

Last year, Dotts said the government made an initial payment of $3 million to the Mangabao estate.

“Today is a good day because it’s good for the family to get paid after all these years. It’s also good for the commonwealth because it cuts off the accruing interest which amounts to over $1 million a year. There’s a lot of people in this family — there are around 3,000 of them, and I represent 89 heirs in this case. It’s good because the government is now recognizing its obligation. It has a moral obligations to pay the people and this government is taking its obligations seriously.”

Some of the heirs of the Mangabao estate — Nick Norita, Raffy Rangamar and Maria Mendiola — were in the House gallery during the session on Friday.

In a statement, Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres said:

“I commend the House for passing H.B. 20-103, which appropriates the full payment of the judgment in Commonwealth vs. Lot No. 353 New-G et al, Civil Case No. 97-0266 (the Mangabao Estate). I look forward to the Senate passing the bill later this week. Legislation to address the other outstanding judgments is in the works, and we look forward to eventually paying them off within the month. My administration, along with the Legislature, will continue to prioritize the full payment of land compensation including those families on the Department of Public Lands’ claims list. Paying off the government’s debts will put our commonwealth in a better financial situation in the long term.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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