Variations | Yelling and table-pounding at the district legislature, among other old news stories

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ONE of the letters to the editor published by Marianas Variety on June 9, 1977 was from a Marianas High School student who was unhappy with “certain policies being pursued by the Department of Education.”

The NMI at the time was still one of the districts of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the U.S.

According to the student, the TT education department had “lost sight of [the] fact” that as a public institution, MHS was supposed to provide island residents with free education. “I recently completed registration, a procedure for which I had paid $3 [about $13.25 today]. I was also charged fees for some of my classes. When I graduate, assuming present policy is still in effect, I will have to buy my diploma.”

The student said they were told that their payments would “defray the cost of needed supplies.” In other words, the student added, the TT education department “has failed to secure and appropriate the funds needed to adequately maintain and supply the schools.”

The student said MHS “receives no maintenance. [It] is in a state of disrepair. Teachers have…to scrounge for chalk, staples and paper. Meanwhile, at [the] District Education [office], an excessively large body of highly paid professional curriculum writers consume a disproportionate share of the Department’s budget. Federal programs flourish as do their employees. Yet no one seems capable of securing federal funds to buy standard supplies and books.”

Government-paid off-island travels — junkets — were also a major concern back then.

Variety’s editorial on June 9, 1977 quoted a local lawmaker as saying that off-island travel was a good way to increase one’s knowledge. The lawmaker then mentioned “a Chinese proverb which says that a frog inside a deep well cannot see further than the walls of that well.” Variety noted, however, that the same frog, “when taken out of the well, begins to jump every which way…. This is what most of our legislators have been doing since…March.” Variety said lawmakers had, so far, taken “fact-finding trips” to Okinawa, mainland Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Manila, the Philippine capital.

On June 16, 1977, MV published a letter to the editor from  “A Destitute Citizen” who noted that the “great majority of our people are living under subsistence,” and that “more than half of the Saipan population are under the [free] Family Food Distribution Program. Given this state of affairs, it boggles the mind that people are often forced to donate for Liberation Day candidates and/or ball players who plan a trip to Guam…. I view it rather stupid and doubly embarrassing for strongly built men to walk around leisurely begging for donations from those who also need their nickels and dimes.”

In its news story on July 28, 1977 regarding the latest session of the Popular (now Democratic) Party-dominated Marianas District Legislature, MV reported that “tempers flared…as heated words were exchanged over a proposed amendment to a relatively minor appropriation measure. Yelling and table pounding erupted over a bill which would appropriate $3,500 [about $15,400 today] to defray expenses of the upcoming Island Youth Council Conference.” One lawmaker said the appropriation should be increased to $5,000 ($22,000 today), adding that “if funds are available for [legislative] trips there should be no reason why the legislature could not find money to appropriate for youth programs.”

In other words, Think about the children!

“A see-saw battle ensued,” MV reported. A lawmaker then “threw the proceedings into confusion by offering to amend the appropriation to $20,000 [about $88,300]. When he received no support [he] said the [$5,000 proposal] was not really intended to help the youth. Later he withdrew his amendment saying that there was a total lack of decorum among” the lawmakers.

The legislative speaker then scolded his colleagues. “We spend too much time debating unnecessarily over trivial matters,” he said. “The public is watching our actions in this legislature.” Before the session ended, one lawmaker complained about the “insinuations” made by a colleague regarding legislative off-island travels which the lawmaker said were “necessary.”

From an editorial cartoon in the same issue:

Juan: I hear [TT High Commissioner Adrian] Winkel’s going to really cut down TT headquarters [i.e., the central government].

John: You mean cut out all the “deadwood”?

Juan: That ain’t no “deadwood”…that’s a petrified forest!!

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November 2020 pssnewsletter

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