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AG raises constitutional issue in Marpi parks proposal

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THE Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development & Programs may not approve House Bill 21-72 anytime soon because of a constitutional issue that the attorney general raised on Wednesday.

Chaired by Sen. Frank Borja, the committee met with Attorney General Edward Manibusan, Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente, Department of Public Lands Secretary Marianne Concepcion-Teregeyo, and Marianas Visitors Authority Managing Director Priscilla M. Iakopo on Wednesday to discuss, among other things, H.B. 21-72.

Co-authored by Reps. Roman Benavente and Sheila Babauta, H.B. 21-72 would create the Marpi Public Parks, which will include the Grotto, Banzai Cliff, Bird Island, Kalabera Cave, the Last Command Post, and Suicide Cliff.

The measure also proposes to transfer from DPL to DLNR, the freehold interest in those sites, and allow DLNR to collect and use fees for the maintenance and development of Marpi tourist sites.

Everyone in the meeting recognized the good intention of the measure, but the AG said it may be unconstitutional.

Members of the Senate Committee on Resources, Economic Development & Programs meet with Attorney General Edward Manibusan and officials of the Department of Public Lands, the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, and the Marianas Visitors Authority in the Senate chamber on Wednesday.  Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

He said any collection from the use of public lands must go to DPL and then to Marianas Public Land Trust. He said fees collected for entering the sites as proposed in H.B. 21-72 are considered public land revenues, which must go to DPL and then to MPLT minus the administrative expenses of DPL.

Babauta said the intent of the bill is to enhance the Marpi tourist sites, promote tourism, and make sure that people benefit from it.

Concepcion-Teregeyo said nothing stops the Legislature from pursuing those intentions. It’s just a matter of communication between the agencies involved “to make things work,” she added.

After hearing from the AG and the agency heads, Senator Borja said, “We now have a general idea on how to go about this bill.”

Also in attendance at the meeting were committee members Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider, Senate Floor Leader Justo Quitugua, Sen. Frank Cruz, Sen. Sixto Igisomar, and other officials of DLNR, DPL and MVA.

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