OPINION | The legacy of the Founding Fathers of the Commonwealth to our people 

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RECENTLY, the Democratic Party of the Northern Mariana Islands honored the Founding Fathers of the Commonwealth with a commemorative resolution “for their monumental contribution and unselfish dedication to improving the quality of life for the people of the CNMI.”

The resolution further states that “while the Covenant was not a perfect document, our Commonwealth negotiators, through their diligent efforts, professionalism, dedication and commitment, produced a historic and binding agreement that has served and protected our interests for the past 42 years.”

As one of the four living recipients of the resolution, I was deeply moved, honored and grateful to the NMI Democratic Party officials, members and candidates for their magnanimous and generous remembrance of our Founding Fathers.

I was privileged to serve as the Chairman of the Marianas Political Status Commission or MPSC back in August 1972 when it was instituted by District Law 3-124.   There were 15 original members of the MPSC appointed to represent the Marianas District Legislature, Vicente N. Santos and Felipe A. Salas; Congress of Micronesia, Edward DLG Pangelinan and Herman Q. Guerrero; Rota Municipal Council, Benjamin T. Manglona and Joannes R. Taimanao; Tinian Municipal Council Herman M. Manglona and Francisco A. Hocog; Saipan Municipal Council, Daniel T. Muna and Vicente T. Camacho; Northern Islands, Olympio T. Borja; Popular Party, Joaquin I. Pangelinan; Territorial Party, Francisco T. Palacios; United Carolinians Association, Felix F. Rabauliman; and the Business Association, Jose C. Tenorio.

During the course of 2 ½ years of political status negotiations with the President’s Personal Representative of the United States, 21 of our citizens served and participated in the deliberations of the negotiations.  Several of the original members resigned from the Commission due to personal reasons and the following citizens: Juan LG. Cabrera, Pedro A. Tenorio, Oscar C. Rasa, Jose R. Cruz, Bernard V. Hofscneider and Manuel A. Sablan joined the Commission.

As a Founding Father of the Commonwealth, I am profoundly grateful to our Lord for keeping me alive these 42 years and to stand and bear witness to all the benefits that our people are now enjoying under the Covenant.  The commemorative resolution has given me the opportunity to reminisce about the men who accepted the awesome responsibility to change the course of our destiny.  I can hear clearly the voices and see vividly the faces of all my colleagues on the MPSC.  And I am grateful for the  rare privilege and opportunity to work with 21 honorable men of our islands, who possessed impeccable integrity, honesty, humility, friendship, spiritual upbringing, remarkable sense of humor and dedication to the negotiations of the Covenant To Establish A Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America.

On the first session of the Status Negotiations on Wednesday, December 13, 1972 at Mount Carmel High School Auditorium at 10 a.m. on Saipan, the members of MPSC first met the members of the United States Status Delegation, consisting of the Honorable Ambassador Franklin Haydn Williams, personal representative of the President of the United States, Mr. James M. Wilson, Deputy Chairman, Captain William J. Crowe Jr., USN, Captain Gordon J. Schuller, USN, Stanley S. Carpenter from the Department of the Interior, Herman Marcuse from the Department of Justice, Adrian deGraffenried from Department of the Interior and Mary Vance Trent from the Department of State.

 At the time, I was overwhelmed by my impression of the enormous advantage the U.S. Delegation had in comparison to our tiny MPSC. Here standing before us was the representatives of the federal government and supported by the full resources of the United States of America.  On the MPSC side, we had 15 common citizens, supported by our brilliant legal counsel, Howard P. Willens of the Washington Law Firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, our resourceful and talented economist James R. Leonard of James R. Leonard Associates Inc., our capable executive director, James E. White, Joseph F. Screen and a few staff, and with a meager financial resources. But I was standing tall and very proud of my team.  We were ordinary citizens, but all of us fully understood our history of 400 years of colonization and subjugation of our people by the Spaniards, Germans, and Japanese, and we firmly believed that our people deserve a better and decent life for this and future generations to come. Several of the members of the commission had experienced and witnessed the horror of the invasion of Saipan during World War II. Several of us had to leave home for an extended period of time to seek advanced education outside of the Northern  Mariana Islands.  We had survived the trials, tribulations and challenges living under the administration of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. We stood ready, able and willing to embark on an historic journey for the best interest of all our citizens.

I believe it is useful to review the basic motivation underlying separate status negotiations for the Marianas back between 1972 and 1975:

 First, the people of the Marianas did not want the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement to go on indefinitely.  Our people felt strongly that their status as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands — no matter how well intended — was outmoded and inappropriate.  Change was necessary despite inevitable risks and we believed that our people have the sovereign right of self-determination and to exercise that right as do other people in the world.

Secondly, we felt that the Marianas people were ready for self-government.  The members of the District Legislature and the Marianas Political Status Commission were well aware that self-government carries with it new burdens and responsibilities, as well as new opportunities and challenges.  And we looked forward to the day when the people of the Marianas controlled their own destiny.

Thirdly, the political status negotiations reflected the high value we place on the freedoms and democratic form of government that mark the American political system.  We wanted a government that assured these rights and freedoms as well as the recognition of the fundamental equality of all men under the law.

Fourth, the Marianas Political Status Commission was created to plan for the future — not to relive the past.  The Commission was striving to create a political status that was designed to meet the pressing demands of the present and the unknown demands of the future.  The members of the Commission were fully aware and recognized the practical limitations of a small island community in dealing with the anticipated problems of the 21st. century and beyond.  For this reason, the Marianas Political Status Commission was charged with the responsibility for designing a relationship with the United States of America that offers support and security for our people, as well as opportunity for development and self-government.

The Covenant to Establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America is now fully implemented.  We have a functioning and dynamic self-government, our people are United States citizens, we have an elected representative in the U.S. Congress and the Northern Mariana Islands has become the fifth territory of the United States. Our people and our islands have contributed to the expansion of the United States jurisdiction of over 240,000 square miles of the Western Pacific Ocean.

Our people are blessed with the unlimited opportunities and benefits as citizens of the United States of America. Over these past 42 years the CNMI has received several billion dollars of direct and indirect financial support from the federal government for the benefit of all our citizens.  The financial commitment continues on an annual allocation and will remain so for an indefinite period.

Moreover, as American citizens, there are unlimited opportunities for education, employment, business, investment, career, recreation  and relaxation, as well as military and public service.   The geographic boundary of the CNMI is no longer limited to the boundaries of the islands’ lagoon, it extends from the CNMI to American Samoa to Hawaii, the continental United States and to the American Caribbean of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The sun never sets on the American shores.  Our lands are among the most beautiful and scenic spots on this planet. 

And finally, the diversity of our people, the indigenous Chamorro/Carolinians, all are now members of a much larger community of over 300 million Americans.  We all benefit from the various cultural and ethnic diversity of our American populations.

I wish to add that all our Founding Fathers were men of faith and acknowledged that we had to seek divine guidance and blessings to our endeavor.  In response to our request for spiritual guidance, on the opening day ceremonies of the status negotiations, the invocation was delivered by His Excellency Felixberto Flores, Bishop of the Diocese of Agana:

“Let us pray. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  O, Heavenly Father, through your Son, Jesus Christ, you have assured us that whatever we ask for in His Name will be granted to us.  Behold us here gathered today to initiate an historic event which will affect every facet of our lives, your children, the people of the Marianas.  We humbly beseech your guidance and direction from beginning to end in the discussion pertaining to our political aspirations to be a part of a great nation dedicated to uphold and sustain the God-given rights of every individual within its family.  Watch over us during these days  that we may be open in our deliberations, prudent in our expressions of what we are seeking, not only for ourselves, but for those who will in the future be the heirs of what we now seek.  By your benevolent Providence grant us the blessing of your favor, that what we aspire to, will be for the common good of all the people of the Marianas.  Grant us, too, the blessings that we, your Christian people of the Marianas may, through our meager resources, bring further growth and development of our American community.  We as ask all of these in the name of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

This follows by the Benediction of Rev. Charles Carr of the Saipan Community Church:

“Let us pray.  Heavenly Father, as we the people of the Marianas pause on the brink of this brave and manly act of putting in our  hands the shaping of our destiny, will though be pleased to remind us, yes, each of us, that Thou, too, are at work in all things for good, for those who accommodate Thy purposes.  Help us to proceed with steady purpose to hold truth and integrity in our highest esteem to acknowledge Thee as counselor and guide, and to give our best and our noblest efforts for our children, and our children’s children, in the name of Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.”

It is with honor and great joy to have live this long and to witness the enormous and significant benefits that our citizens now enjoy as a result of the implementation of our Covenant.  I am particularly thankful to the families of the members of the MPSC who gave their blessings and support to the successful conclusion of the Covenant.  I owe a debt of gratitude to my loving wife, Dulce G. Pangelinan, who had almost singlehandedly raised our six kids in order for me to devote all my time and energy for the Covenant.

God Bless the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and to our country, the United States of America.


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