By: L.N. Reklai
February 22, 2017 (Koror, Palau) A civil appeal case in which Appellate Court reversed Land Court‘s decision and awarded Meyuns Skojio back to KSPLA, the Court also upheld its previous ruling that the 35 PNC § 1304(b), a law that mandates claims for return of public land be filed no later than January 1, 1989, does not violate Article XIII, §10 of the Constitution on the return of public land.
Appellant Cordino Soalablai, one of the appellant on the Meyuns Skojio case, had filed a claim on September 26, 2005 for portion of the land that is within the Skojio lot as part of his property that was taken by the Japanese. His claim was dismissed earlier as untimely.
In the appeal case, he argued that 35 PNC § 1304 (b) that sets an arbitrary deadline for filing land claims violates his Constitutional right and is “arbitrary, unfair and runs counter to the very concept behind the constitutional provision that lands which were wrongfully taken should be returned to the “original owners or their heirs”.
Soalablai argued that the Palauan version of the Constitution should be used as it “is much more precise, direct, and forceful” than the English version and that the Article XIII, § 10 of the Constitution “commands” the national government that public lands wrongfully taken are returned to original owners or heirs within 5 years of the effective date of Constitution.
The Appellate Court in its decision stated that there is no conflict between the Palauan and the English version of the Constitution and that both should be read together.
“We see no such irreconcilable conflict between English and Palauan versions of this constitutional provision,” stated the Appellate Court decision.
According to the decision, even though the Constitution does not provide instructions to the national government on how to return public land, the government still has to adopt a process for determining whether a land was forcefully taken and who the original owners are in order to implement the Constitution.
“The fact that there is no deadline set by the Constitution for filing of claims for public land does not mean that no deadline can be set for filing of claims for public land,” stated the decision.
Appellate Court affirmed the decision of Land Court that Soaladaob’s claim was untimely based on 35 PNC § 1304 (b). [/restrict]