Saipan— The people of the Northern Mariana Islands seemed to be satisfied with the local Republican Party’s leadership, based in the Nov. 8 election results. Unofficial tally showed the CNMI GOP is on its way of grabbing 15 of the 20 seats at stake in the House of Representatives while sweeping all three Senate posts in the midterm polls.
The Commonwealth Election Commission was waiting for all absentee ballots to arrive on or before Nov. 22.
All absentee ballots should also have been counted after the polls closed on Nov. 8. Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, however, signed a bill extending the absentee voting deadline to Nov. 22 since ballots sent out would not make it on the original deadline, which is during Election Day. Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro introduced House Bill 19-204, which became Public Law 19-70.
Senate Vice President Arnold I. Palacios and Rep. Angel A. Demapan, both Republican lawmakers, are united in saying that the result just shows CNMI voters are satisfied with the local GOP’s performance. The Republicans would still be the majority even if it loses in three Precincts where the race is tight.
Veterans Affairs Office director Gregorio M. Sablan Jr. is ahead by 67 votes over Roman C. Benavente for the last seat in Precinct 1 while Jose I. Itibus could be on his way of clinching the final spot in Precinct 3 as he is up by 41 votes against Ralph N. Yumul.
Both Sablan and Itibus are some of the new faces that ran under the Republican banner while Benavente and Yumul are seeking re-election being part of the Independent bloc in the House of Representatives in the 19th Legislature.
Incumbent Rep. Edwin P. Aldan is also facing a challenge against former educator Diana H. Borja for the lone House seat on Tinian. Aldan leads Borja by 63 votes, 501-438, and with Tinian having 1,690 overall active registered voters, the absentee ballots could decide the result of the election.
Republican bet Glenn L. Maratita, the incumbent Rota representative, is comfortably ahead by 188 votes (580-392) against Democrat Tricia Marie A. Manglona.
This election is important for both Aldan and Maratita with economic activity in the islands that they are representing in the House at a standstill. Events like the Tinian Hot Pepper Festival and Bisita Luta attract local and foreign tourists in both islands but will soon die down after the celebration.
Both islands have been relying on money provided by the CNMI government’s budget every fiscal
year and earmarks made by the Legislature for its daily operations thus avoiding shutdown of services.
Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino’s shut down became an additional burden to Tinian with no more major hotel to attract gamblers and tourists alike. Tinian Dynasty closed down after the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed a $75 million penalty last year.
An investigation made by the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network revealed that Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investments, which owns Tinian Dynasty, committed violations of the Bank Secrecy Act after failing to implement strict anti-money laundering policies.
However, Tinian’s economy is expected to pick up with Bridge Investment Group building a harbor near Kammer Beach, a facility that would house the Commonwealth Ports Authority offices and a couple of warehouses. BIG would also begin construction of one of two hotels they are developing on the island.
Saipan’s economy hugely improved in the last two years, except for a brief period after the devastation brought by Typhoon Soudelor. And with economic activity on Tinian expected to increase in the coming years, this leaves Rota behind.
Rota’s leaders remain confident development in the CNMI’s southernmost island will also recover, despite reports that people are leaving and prices of basic goods are double than that on Saipan.
Maratita said that there are two investor groups that are looking to develop a hotel resort on Rota. At the same time, the Rota leadership also met with Guam Legislators to establish a partnership. There are plans to have Guam bring in their commodities and Rota providing them with livestock.
Both Tinian and Rota are hoping the renewed economic activity on Saipan would trickle down to both islands. Logistics has also been a problem as no direct flights are offered going to Tinian and Rota. Attractions and events also add to their woes as tourists, once they land on Saipan, would no longer visit the islands except for those who love historical sites or are into nature exploration.
James Chua, a consultant that has been helping the Governor’s Office in project management with the entry of new investors, said Tinian and Rota need to have new attractions and other activities to entice tourists to visit the said islands.