• By Pacific island Times News Staff

Yap Legislature sues governor over Covid-19 emergency directive

Colonia, Yap-- The Tenth State Legislature has sued Yap Gov. Henry Falan challenging his state of emergency declaration for Yap issued on March 27 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The petition for declaratory judgment filed in the State Court of Yap questions the “interpretation of certain provisions of the Yap State Constitution” as they relate to the emergency declaration, which was valid for 30 days and expired on April 26.

The Attorney General’s Office has 30 days to respond to the petition.

According to the constitution, “If required to preserve peace, health or safety, at a time of extreme emergency caused by civil disturbance, natural disaster, or immediate threat of war or insurrections, the governor may declare a state of emergency and issue appropriate decrees.”

It goes on to say that, “Within thirty days after the declaration of emergency, the Legislature shall convene at the call of the speaker or the governor to consider revocation, amendment or extension of the declaration.”

Yap is included in the national emergency declaration issued by FSM President David Panuelo on Jan. 31. Falan’s March 27 state of emergency declaration was recommended and approved by the legislature.

At the recommendation of the Health Crisis Task Force and the Department of Health Services, the administration’s lead agency for Covid-19, Falan formally requested, during an early morning meeting with the legislature and the heads of the task force and DHS on Friday, April 24, the extension of the declaration that was set to expire two days later on Sunday, April 26. However, his follow-up written request to the extension that he had formally delivered to the legislature the previous Friday was not received by the legislature’s office until 8:45 a.m. on Monday, April 27.

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In an unprecedented display of haste, Speaker Vincent Figir sent a response to the governor at noon stating that the request for the extension had been assigned, upon receipt, to the Committee of the Whole “for handling.” Figir said the legislature could not constitutionally extend the emergency declaration, which he noted “essentially expired” as of April 26.

The Attorney General’s Office immediately drafted a second declaration, which the governor signed that same day “to continue placing the entire State of Yap under a state of public health emergency.” It was stamped as received by the legislature’s office on April 29. The following afternoon, the legislature’s chief clerk transmitted a certified copy of a resolution “to revoke the declaration of a state of emergency issued on April 27, 2020.”

According to the resolution, the Tenth Legislature has determined that the efforts undertaken under the declaration dated March 27 have “adequately addressed the emergency posed by Covid-19 to the State of Yap and found there was no basis for extending the declaration.”

Falan responded on May 4, “We duly acknowledge the powers vested upon the legislature to make resolutions, however, we recognize in this regard that the resolution dated April 30, 2020...has no legal basis and no merit in law. Until we find a meritorious legal reason or basis to recognize its legality, we will continue to use and rely on the emergency declaration to address the present Covid-19 pandemic.”

One of the reasons that Falan and the executive leaders of the task force and DHS recommend maintaining an emergency declaration for the state is the possible requirement by outside funding sources that the state have its own declaration. It may not be enough that the FSM national government has issued one. The other three FSM states – Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk – also have their own declarations.

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On May 20, Figir, as co-chairman of the Yap-China Economic & Cultural Exchange Association, was among those accepting a donation worth $17,000 of personal protective equipment from the Zhongshan People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. A press release issued by the association the following day notes that Figir, himself a former governor, and his co-chair, former governor Sebastian Anefal, requested assistance “to combat this global Covid-19 pandemic recognizing the vulnerable position Yap is in should Covid-19 hit the islands and our limited access to Covid-19 specific medical supplies.”

The press release goes on to compliment China’s “swift action to combat Covid-19 and [the association’s] admiration for the successful control” of the disease “with the persistent efforts that has [sic] setup [sic] a very good example to all countries in the world that are still fighting with the Covid-19.”

It went on to state, “In the interest of mutual cooperation between the two associations, Co-Chairman Vincent Figir along with his Co-Chairman Anefal and other members including former Governor Tony Ganngiyan, Rull Mayor Simeon Waathan, Yap Pacific Dive Resort Hotel Manager Yang Gang and others have unanimously agreed to support the Covid-19 Health Crisis Taskforce, led by the Yap DHS, which has been working very hard since February, planning, preparing and practicing for Yaps [sic] response to Covid-19, if and when the time comes.”

The release quotes Figir as saying, “...we assure them that we are putting their hard efforts into good use for the people of Yap by handing over the donation to the Covid-19 Health Crisis Task Force to help mitigate the situation a little to keep our people free from COVID-19 disease and other diseases in general.”

When submitting the second declaration to the legislature, Falan wrote, “I invite the members of the legislature to support our efforts in mitigating this crisis on behalf of the people of Yap.”

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