FIRST and foremost, I respect and support the desire and need for Locals to maintain some form of “permanent land ownership” and there is a way to do both — “protect Land-ownership AND guarantee the Right of every American to own their house/business land.” There will never be a unanimous consensus on what to do about Article XII which is why our society is driven by what the majority of People want, not what our Politicians want. So, if WE the People will take a look at the facts and reality of the CNMI I’m sure the answers/solutions will be obvious, which is what teachers do in all the classrooms of the CNMI every day. I understand both sides of the arguments on Article XII and I am offering this “objective, legal, educated and moral argument on Article XII” in hopes that answers/solutions can be generated to the point of at least creating a majority within our Government and among the People of the CNMI. While I know some Locals don’t like “outsiders” telling them what needs to be done but when THIS outsider who is a recognized U.S. Constitutional Scholar with a Degree in Economics a Local Wife & Children and has BEEN where Locals are trying to GO (the American Dream of a High Quality of Life) it would be wise and even prudent to at least give this article an objective ear.
I. The Law: Article XII is in direct violation of the Supreme Law of our Nation, the United States Constitution which guarantees every American the Right to own land in America. It is just a matter of time before a case reaches a Federal Court on landownership for the Feds to step in and end Article XII. In fact, the Federal Court in the “John Davis Case” have already made it clear that “ALL American Citizens can VOTE on any Article XII Amendment” — the “handwriting is already on the wall” People. Article XII is living on “borrowed time” for TRUE which is why the issue continues to be in the forefront of concern and conversations in the CNMI. I’m sure most citizens don’t want to see the Feds come in AGAIN and FORCE the CNMI to comply with Federal Law like they were really FORCED to do with; 1. Alien Workers 2. Minimum Wage 3. Immigrations. The CNMI should have learned these all-important three lessons that history has already taught in order to avoid the same mistake with Article XII or the CNMI will be DOOMED for the Feds to fix Article XII.
1st Solution: Comply with U.S. Constitution and give every American the Right to own land – that doesn’t mean there will be land for all to buy which I will discuss latter.
II. Rights: Every American has a RIGHT to own the land for their home/business. Every Local Private Citizen has the RIGHT of FREE Enterprise to do as they please with their land (sale, rent or lease). The People of the CNMI have the RIGHT to “Reserve Lands FOR the People.”
2nd Solution: Give everyone their right by complying with the 1st Solution and deem ALL Government Lands that can ONLY be leased, including Homesteads, which are really Reservations, as being “Reserves for the Local People.”
III. Protection: The only reason the U.S. Covenant Negotiators, the Senators and the President of the U.S. agreed on Article XII was because it was meant to ONLY last for 25 years to “PROTECT the CNMI form Foreign and U.S. Speculators buying up the island like Hawaii”. Read the Covenant talks, ask Don Ferrell or anyone of the CNMI Negotiators who really knows this to be true. In fact, it has been Local Speculators buying up land for less than a penny-on-a-dollar or should I say dirt-cheap because the CNMI is a “Closed-market” for Locals ONLY.
3rd Solution: Article XII should only be protecting “Government Land and the designated Homesteads (Reservations)” which is what all the Native American Indians have done - Chamorros/Carolinians are all Native Americans in every-sense of the term. The 25 yr. period granted in the Covenant has ended and Locals no longer need protection from speculators and more importantly they are being taken advantage of by Local Speculators.
IV. Manipulation of Article XII: Article XII is not being manipulated by U.S. Citizens but by private local citizens and even Government officials who are manipulating leases on Government land for THEIR personal intentions. Some Locals are even getting their homesteads with no intentions of ever building permanently but just as a “cash-cow” to sell to Local Speculators. If anyone is being manipulated it is Locals manipulating Locals.
4th Solution: Preventing the sale of Government Land and all Homestead Lands that should only be transferred, not sold, to a local family member so they won’t have to apply. This will end the continued Homesteads full of jungles and it will decrease the waiting list and decrease future demands for homestead lots because eventually the CNMI will run out of homestead lots. If the homestead lot was first occupied by a Cruz it should remain a Cruz Family Resident forever!
V. NMD Qualifications in Article XII: It is already a known fact that the NMD Blood Requirement is not a “perpetual means for determining NMDs.”
5th Solution: The NMDs should be determined by “DNA Test” which is the same system Native Americans use today. Status for owning land should only apply to the Homestead Reservations, as all U.S. citizens are not NMDs. I’m not sure about how the Government shares the revenues from Government leased land with the NMDs but that should remain solely an NMD issue.
VI. Economic Adverse Effects of Article XII: Being an Economist I can assure the People of the CNMI that the “Closed Real Estate Market for Land” in the CNMI is one of the biggest inhibitors to our economy growing and the quality of life still lingering or should I say limping along. There is a reason we don’t see that many American Investors and we have to depend mostly upon S. E. Asia to drive our economy. The Economic evolutionary growth of our Economy is NOT happening which is why 60% of the People in the CNMI are living at a “poverty-level.” The “Real Estate Market” that is based on Landownership can make-up anywhere on an average from 10% to 35% and even more to a community’s economy. Land sales create construction, jobs, more people, more businesses, in fact MORE of almost everything and we wonder why our youth can’t wait to leave for the mainland and why we still only have four U.S. “Fast-food Franchises” (Pizza Hut, Subway, Kentucky & McDonalds) and its now 2021.
6th Solution: Give Private Landowners their Right to sell their land to any U.S. citizen but not to foreigners. At the same time, Local Landowners should be educated at NMC in FREE classes sponsored by the Government on the lessons learned in Hawaii for them to be mindful about the sale of their land. Some Locals will sell but just because People have Rights to buy & sell that doesn’t mean all Locals should sell all of their land as many should still lease their land on their terms using a “progressive rate for a more unrestricted lease periods” to be more attractive for investors. The Government does NOT have the Right to dictate the Leases of Private Landowners — the CNMI is a Republic not a Dictatorship!
VII. Moral Obligations of a Society: “Are we not our brothers’ keeper” in the American Family. The CNMI has literally taken Billions of dollars from U.S. Taxpayers but these same taxpayers are DENIED the opportunity to pursue the American Dream of a “career, their OWN home & family” in the CNMI because of Article XII. One example of how truly unfair it is to ask a Teacher from the mainland to come teach and pay rent for 20 yrs. but they can’t retire to live in their own home, which is why PSS will FOREVER have a Teacher Recruitment Challenge under Article XII.
7th Solution: All of the Above Solutions.
The CNMI doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to address Article XII, as I have been trying for years to get Locals to see that if the CNMI would just follow the Native-American Model most of the challenges with Article XII will be resolved. There are only two options for the CNMI when it comes to Article XII: 1. Comply with the U.S. Constitution and Amend Article XII or the Feds will eventually step in to fix the problem. 2. Declare the entire CNMI as being a “Native-American Reservation” but the U.S. Senate & President may not approve this change.
One People One Direction.
The writer is a retired teacher, former CNMI Board of Education Member, James Madison Fellow (U.S. Constitutional Scholar), a Fulbright-Hays & Humanities Scholar who resides in Kagman III.