Brief chat with Henry Falan: 'Constitutional review is long overdue'
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Breaking his silence for the first time since he was impeached by the state legislature in December last year, Yap’s former governor Henry Falan has announced his plan to retire from politics.
“It is now time for the younger generation to take the reins of government for our state,” Falan said in an open letter to the people of Yap. “At this stage of my life, I feel my best role is in the capacity of sharing what I have learned and experienced during my nearly 50 years of public service.”
Falan, however, lamented that the manner by which he was ousted from office was “unfair,” “unjustified” and was done “without due process.”
“But it’s just my opinion,” Falan said in an interview. “I think it’s a good opportunity for Yapese people to wake up.”
A petition to have Falan reinstated was delivered to the legislature on Jan. 28 but it hit a dead end.
“The Yapese people tend to be not straightforward out of fear of being confrontational,” said Falan, who is currently vacationing on Guam.
Falan was sworn into office in 2019. During his term, he had been at odds with members of the Yap Legislature over several issues including his call for pay raises for health care personnel and lawyers with the Office of the Attorney General.
The tipping point came when a disagreement over salary allotments led Falan to shut down the OAG because two attorneys had not been paid for two months. On Sept. 22, 2021, Falan reopened the OAG through an emergency declaration related to the saltwater flowing in Ifalik island.
The legislature questioned the governor’s move. With a vote of 8-2, Falan was removed on charges of “misfeasance and malfeasance.” Lt. Gov. Jesse Salalu assumed the governor’s seat.
Besides the budget issue, Falan also fought the legislature over the lease contract for government-owned land sought by a locally licensed telecom company, iBoom Waab Inc, owned by Lubuw Falanruw.
“I was pushing for the IBoom project which was initiated by a native son of Yap. It’s beautiful to have technology being pursued by a native son of Yap,” Falan said.
The legislature is still sitting on the lease contract. As to why the lawmakers were reluctant to expedite action on the iBoom project, Falan said, “Only the legislature can speak for themselves.”
And yet, Falan deplored, Yap lawmakers opened their arms to welcome suspicious investments from China.
One of the largest projects proposed by China’s ETG was the construction of a 10,000-room hotel resort. At the time the project was proposed, the number of hotel rooms ETG planned to build was way higher than the number of hotel rooms on Guam and Palau combined.
“To me, there was something not right about that proposal,” Falan said. “We should demand a review of any project presented to us and tell the investors what we like and what we don’t like instead of getting caught up in high-level deals with empty promises.”
There had been speculation that Falan’s presumed anti-China stance influenced the legislature’s move to have him removed from office. “I can only opine strongly that there’s the possibility that the legislature’s action was influenced by some of my policy decisions,” he said.
One of the opportunities that Falan said he missed as a result of his ouster was to initiate government reform by revisiting the Yap Constitution.
“We need to review the powers of different branches of government to ensure that they are carried out as intended by the framers of the Constitution,” the former governor said.
He cited as an example the council of traditional chiefs, whose powers he said need to be reviewed. The Council of Pilung and Council of Tamol are the fourth branch of Yap’s government and provide advice to the governor and legislature on matters related to Yap’s customs and traditions.
The appointment of council members, Falan said, is “based on a system where their power and authority were ascribed, not earned, not elected.”
The council has the power to veto any bill that it deems adversely affects the customs and traditions of Yap. “They are required by law to consult the state,” Falan said. “But the council itself decides what constitutes ‘customs and traditions.’”
Yap is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia with a population of 11,500. The state made world headlines in 2019 following the murder of the American acting attorney general, Rachelle Bergeron, which has yet to go to trial.
Yap’s Constitution was adopted in 1982. Framers of the Constitution intended to have the document reviewed every 10 years. But Falan said the Constitution has not been updated.
The last constitutional amendments were ratified by Yap voters on Nov. 7, 2006.
“The last time Yap tried to have a Constitutional Convention, it was defeated by the council and that was the end of it,” Falan said. “I believe it’s time to have a Constitutional Convention, It’s long overdue.”
Falan urged the people of Yap to actively engage, hold the government accountable and exercise their democratic rights “without fear of retribution.”
“I urge you to stand up and speak out when you see wrong and when you disagree with those who are your public servants,” he said in his letter to the people of Yap. “They were put into office by you and you have the right and the duty to ensure they are representing your best interests, not theirs.”