Senate ‘reluctantly’ passes $20.7M land compensation bill

THE Senate “reluctantly” passed the House measure appropriating $20.7 million for land-compensation judgments, including the government’s $16 million debt to the Mangabao estate. Some senators felt that landowners in Tinian and Rota were left out and not considered.

Introduced by Rep. Angel Demapan, House Bill 20-103 was approved by a vote of 7 to 1 and now goes to the governor.

Senate Floor Leader Frank Borja said he will support the measure for now because of the urgency of the issue, but he will not support any future appropriation bills if they don’t include Tinian.

Sen. Frank Cruz said Tinian and Rota deserve land-compensation payments too, saying there are landowners on Tinian that are still waiting to get paid.

He is hoping that this matter will be addressed in the budget deliberations.

Senate Vice President Steve Mesngon said landowners on Rota have been waiting to get paid for decades too. He asked his colleagues and House members to consider the landowners on Rota in the next appropriation measure.

Sen. Teresita Santos commended Senate President Arnold Palacios for taking the lead in facilitating the payment of land compensation and for collaborating with other government agencies to make it possible.

But she said she is also hoping that those on Rota will also be paid in the near future, adding that the land compensation issue affects all three main islands.

Sen. Paul A. Manglona, who cast the lone no vote, said he was disappointed with the way the governor and the Legislature have appropriated the supplemental revenue. He said the Public School System and the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. need additional funding for critical needs.

Manglona said the government appears to have prioritized paying landowners who have sued the government, but not those who did not take any legal action against the government but are also waiting to get paid.

He said these landowners deserve compensation too.

Manglona offered a floor amendment proposing to appropriate $28 million as follows: Mangabao estate, $11,037,356.71 million instead of $16,291,763.36; Rita Rogolifoi estate, $1,990,258.16 instead of $2,970,534.57; Vicente Muna estate, $575,217.25 instead of $858,533.21; Cresencio Manglona estate, $341,187.32 instead of $509,234.81; Luisa B. Quitugua estate, $55,980.56 instead of $83,553.08; PSS, $7 million; and CHCC, $7 million.

Senate President Arnold Palacios called for a recess to discuss the matter.

When the session resumed, he explained the urgency of settling the judgments as ordered by the court. He said these estates needed to be prioritized as they are accruing a huge amount of interest every year.

He also assured Manglona that funding for PSS, CHCC and other land owners will be addressed in future appropriations.

Sen. Justo Quitugua noted that under the House measure, the payment to the Muna estate is short by $13,564.44, according to its lawyer.

Quitugua said he has asked the House to address the shortfall in the next appropriation measure.

Sen. Sixto Igisomar said he understands the issues with PSS and CHCC, but this is the time to consider other priorities like land compensation, he added.

He said it doesn’t mean they don’t care for PSS, CHCC and other agencies, but they must reluctantly approve the land-compensation measure because of the court judgments. He said he is hoping they can all come together and pass measures that address the critical needs of the commonwealth, including land compensation issues.

Gov. Ralph Torres commended the Senate for passing the measure. In a statement he said: “The payment of these longstanding obligations will allow the CNMI to further address government debts in the near future. We maintain our commitment to include future appropriations to address the remaining land-compensation claims in Saipan, Tinian, and Rota before they become judgments. My administration, the Legislature, along with the Department of Public Lands are working to fulfill our obligations to all land claimants to ensure that our commonwealth is in a better financial situation in the long term. I look forward to signing this bill into law in the next week.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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