Friday, January 23, 2009

318. A Response to Lino Olopai

I read Lino's letter in the Saipan Tribune with some reluctance and hesitation. I like and respect Lino, but I often find myself at odds with some of his philosophies. I don't think this is because I'm "American" and he's "Indigenous Carolinian." I think we just think differently.

So I read it and found it interesting. Here is the letter with my responses and comments.

Friday, January 23, 2009
A done deal I took this to mean recognition that the Monument is now a reality. I think, after reading the letter, it was meant to suggest that it was always going to happen and we just didn't know that. I don't believe it. As a supporter, I know that we were on tenterhooks about what would happen. I sat in on phone calls from Pew representatives Jay Nelson and Matt Rand where we were scrambling for more strategies and ideas on what else we could do to campaign for the monument designation. I never had the sense that anyone at Pew Ocean Legacy or in Friends of the Monument felt the decision was "in the bag." In fact, towards the end, I was completely convinced that Bush would designate only Rose Atoll and Palmyra Islands and delete the Marianas from the proposal.

I am not surprised to learn that President Bush approved the marine monument. I've always suspected from the beginning that the monument is not for conservation, but for homeland security, military use and the enhancement of President Bush's image. None of us know why President Bush decided to sign the designation. I do not discount these possible motivations. The last, I think, might have improved his approval rating among the public from 12% to 13% where it ended when he left office. EDIT: actually President Bush's lowest rating was 20%; it ended at a 22% approval rating.

I especially do not believe the statements of Council of Environmental Quality chair James Connaughton and President Bush that the native islanders' (Chamorro and Refalawash) concerns will be protected. I think this might depend on what those concerns are. CEQ chair is a politician-we must be skeptical about what all politicians say. OTOH, the Hawaiian monument Papahanaumokuakea has many features in its regulations that address indigenous rights and concerns. I think we'll see some of this, too.

The marine monument was a done deal from the beginning. Pew was only used, for over two years, to pave a pathway for President Bush to approve the marine monument. Chairman Connaughton and his group knew of Pew's propaganda, but were never present to lend a helping hand, not until just a few months ago. It's a very well executed plan! See my comment above. I disagree. I don't think there was some grand conspiracy. I think Pew's Ocean Legacy thought it would be a good plan, wanted it, and promoted it. But Bush is the "decider"-haha!- and also unpredictable, in my opinion. I don't think we would have seen the division between Cheney and Laura Bush is this was some well-orchestrated predetermined plan.

I also do not believe Pew and their proponents when they profess that designation of the monument is in the best interest of the native islanders, and that we shouldn't let it pass us by. “A win-win situation, job opportunities, we will be known all over the world, become rich and famous,” etc, etc... I've heard these types of remarks from “salesmen” too many times before! I also know that it has misled lots of people, including our leaders, both local and federal. I'm not a "Pew proponent" but a Friend of the Monument. I do think this opportunity is good for the CNMI, including native islanders. The CNMI has already given constitutional protection to the three northernmost islands. Unfortunately, because of the court rulings on the EEZ, the CNMI could not give the same kind of protection to the waters surrounding the islands. This designation does that. There will be some benefits. We've already had an enormous amount of free publicity around the world. We will see scientists coming here. We will get a Visitors' Center paid for by the US Government. We will get a boat that the CNMI will use for northern island trips. There will be some jobs created by this. We will NOT all become rich and famous-and I don't think any Monument supporter said that. And it won't happen overnight, because it will take a couple of years before we even have the Monument plan completed and put into effect.

I am equally disappointed by our elected leader's lack of a strong united stand in protecting what is rightfully ours. Here, I think Lino means Fitial, Arnold Palacios, Pete Reyes all in the end "agreed" to the Monument. For me, this is a sign of intelligence, to be able to change your mind. But I can see this from Lino's POV also. Like I said above, when dealing with politicians, remain skeptical.

A third of our ancestral land and ocean represents a big chunk that has been taken away from our already small islands. This seems to be saying that the Monument took 1/3 of the CNMI's ocean and land. If so, this is a misstatement of fact. As noted above, the waters and submerged land were held by Court decision to have passed to the US by virtue of the Covenant. The Court held that the transfer happened decades ago, although the decision was only recently issued. You may disagree with the court decision. There are a lot of court decisions I disagree with. But we live with them. They become the law and the reality. Even if there were no Monument, this water and submerged land would be "owned" or "controlled" by the U.S. Also, no "ancestral land" is involved in the Monument. No island land is part of the Monument. It's only the water and submerged land.

Perhaps we have forgotten the teachings of our ancestors that the land, ocean, and our people will always be our most precious natural resources. Our islands are but a grain of sand in the middle of the ocean, and our resources are different from those of the continental United States and other big countries. The exploitation of natural gas, oil, minerals, diamonds, gold, etc., are contrary to the teachings of our ancestors and these activities contribute a lot to global warming. They even kill and destroy each other for such things! This is the statement I find most puzzling. I completely agree with it. Nothing in this statement supports opposing the Monument. In fact, it is the very unique nature of the Marianas Trench and eco-systems that abound here that make this place worth preserving and protecting with the maximum amount of law and help possible. The Monument designation will help prevent the damage that greed and exploitation would cause.

Is it true that the federal government will return our submerged lands should we agree to the marine monument? Actually, the US Department of Interior has been offering to support legislation that would give 3 miles EEZ to the CNMI since before the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's holding that said the CNMI owns nothing. Support of the Marine Monument was not a condition for this proposal, although, as I understand it, the offer was renewed in the context of the Marine Monument discussions.

Returning something that is ours in exchange for something that is also ours? I once represented a family that had used land according to a "partida" for 40 years before the Court held there was no effective partida. I completely thought the decision was wrong, but it was upheld on appeal. It took another decade for the family to finally come to grips with the fact that they would have to accept the court ruling as the way it is going to be. But here, it doesn't seem that Lino will ever accept the court ruling on the submerged lands. I understand that sentiment. But it undermines the argument somewhat when the premise-that the CNMI owns the submerged lands and waters-has already been ruled in Court to be false.

Did our elected leaders fall for this, or is it the same old federal government's pathetic attitude where they made themselves believe that one size shoe fits the whole world? It seems to me like, “in search of weapons of mass destruction.” Same comment as above.

The 1906 Antiquities Act that President Bush utilized should be stricken from the book. It's an outdated and very inhumane Act. I still can't bring myself to believe that, with a stroke of the President's pen, an area will become a monument without consultation or due regard to the people there, especially to those that will be affected the most. Needless to say, human rights, be it native islanders, American Indians, or others, must be respected. This is a very legitimate concern. The Antiquities Act is a very strange law that puts a lot of power in the hands of the President, with very little checks and balances. I say very little, because of course Congress does have the power to repeal or modify the law. I think that Kilili would find some support in the Legislature for a bill that said the President could make no further declarations of Monuments in the Pacific without Congressional approval. That's been done regarding other states that already have a lot of Monument acreage. All that said, though, the "worst" that is done by an Antiquities Act declaration is PRESERVATION, protection of the status quo. And that's not a bad thing.

The manner in which the marine monument proposal was presented to us has been especially insulting for me, to our traditional leaders, and was very disrespectful to the Association of Pacific Island Legislature, Micronesian Chief Executive Summit, Guam Fisherman's Co-op, 29th Guam Legislature, Rep. Madeline Bordallo, and others that stood firm with us in our belief in protecting what is rightfully ours. I do not believe that the Native Islanders are so arrogant not to share whatever small resources they may have. I believe that all we wanted to say was which resource should be shared and how much. I'm very sorry that anyone was offended. I'm not quite sure how things could have been done differently, in the framework of the Antiquities Act. An idea was presented, and Pew Ocean Legacy people sought local support immediately by first contacting Diego Benavente and Jacinta Kaipat. Diego-with his ties to Wespac-had no interest in supporting the measure. Cinta-coming from her experience in the Northern Islands and with Beautify CNMI-did. Lots of public information was handed out. Meetings were held. VERY high ranking US officials came to the CNMI to hear what we had to say. Some people will be offended whenever their opinion doesn't win the day.

BTW, It's not too late for indigenous input. Regulations will be drafted-stay tuned and comment. Indigenous matters will be decided-stay tuned and monitor what is going on, speak up. BUT ALSO, recognize that 6,000 real people signed petitions in support of the Monument. People here in the CNMI. People of all ethnicities, including LOTS of indigenous. Do not offend them by acting to speak against the Monument as if there is only one indigenous opinion.

Our relation with the United States under the Covenant is that we're neither a state, union, territory, but we are in a “political union” with the United States. Um, actually, we are a territory. We have a different legal underpinning than other territories, but we're still a territory. Yes, we're in political union with the U.S, but funny, how people touting the Covenant forget to mention that the Covenant itself says we are "under" the sovereignty of the U.S. as well as being in political union with it.

Does the 1906 Antiquities Act apply to us under this relationship since we are not a territory of the United States? It does. The Covenant itself provides a formula for determining what federal laws apply here. Generally, if it applies in Guam, it applies here. And as noted above, the Antiquities Act applies to land within the U.S's ownership and control. The EEZ here falls within that definition.

I guess whatever questions we may ask, our plans for our islands will no longer be valid since they're in the hands of the federal government. Wrong. The plans will be forged by various agencies working together, including the CNMI Government.

Perhaps the new administration will listen to our concerns. We all have hopes for the new administration. It is going to be better than the one we just had. We just don't know how, yet.

Lino M. Olopai
Chalan Kanoa, Saipan


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Lino would support us if he weren't so loyal to certain people.

Lil' Hammerhead said...

The antiquities act.. as strange as it might be.. has facilitated some of Americas greatest parks and protected areas. Without it, I beleive many of these places would not exist. Devil's Tower, the Grand Canyon, Petrified forest, Katmai in Alaska and Jackson hole are all products of the act. In fact, if you read the history of some of the earlier monument designations.. like the Grand Tetons.. the designations were unpopular at the time with politicians and much of the public.

I thought Olopai's lack of support was odd as well.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Kitty Simonds is on a crusade to throw out the Antiquities Act. Good luck.

I saw her in Kilili's office last week. She was lobbying him for "sustainable use."

Anonymous said...

Didn't Obama just say lobbyists will not be allowed in on his government watch?