By: Olkeriil Ngirudelsang
Palau commemorated its 41st Constitutional Day yesterday. There were many activities to mark the celebration including an open Day Market at Ernguul park, and an exhibition of videos, pictures and original documents from the 1st and the 2nd Constitutional Convention (Con-Con).
However, the highlight of the day was the open dialogue with a panelist of constitutional framers who shared stories of how Palau’s Constitution came about as well as their views on some of the country’s major issues.
Due to limited time, the panel of constitutional framers were able to discuss two of the Constitution’s most talked about provisions: Citizenship of Palau and the 99-year term lease for non-Palauans.
The dialogue on citizenship was based on the constitutional provision which stated that any person(s) is a Palauan citizen if he/she is of recognized Palauan ancestry. The panelists addressed the many stateless individuals who were adopted by Palauan families yet could not be citizens of Palau because their biological parents are not of Palauan descents.
“Let’s look at this issue again. Some of them speak the Palauan language, and have been raised here; they are very much Palauan at heart. Let’s grant them citizenship so that they can go to school outside of Palau and travel. I look at it at a human rights angle” said Johnson Toribiong a member of the first and 2nd Con-Con.
Voicing a differing opinion, Laurentino Ulechong also a member of the 1st and 2nd Con-Con stated, ” Palauans are very few; ak mechechei ra reseched. Ak kumdasu el kmo ng di kid a chad er Belau. The Olbiil ra Kelulau shall make special laws to accommodate them but the citizenship provision of our constitution shall remain.”
Member of the audience Santy Asanuma posed a question: In a scenario where his sister’s children were born and raised in Boston, USA and have not even set foot in Palau; compared to baby who is born to Pohnapeian national and adopted by a family in Babeldaob and raised here all his life: Who is more Palauan?
Former Vice President Sandra Pierantozzi who was a convention Secretariat of the 1st Con-Con and a delegate to the 2nd Con-Con posed a scenario, “If I’m am married to an Italian national and have kids who went to live in Italy and after two thousand years my descendants will all travel to Palauan claiming citizenship since they could trace their origin to Sandra: how are we going to address that?” She further suggested that Palau apply what the country of Brunei is doing where every few years, its citizens go back to their country to renew their citizenship.
The dialogue regarding the issue of 99-year lease was also briefly touched although it did not create much discussion as the Citizenship dialogue did. Mark Rudimch, a member of 2nd Con-Con said “the 99 years lease term gives foreigners a chance to live in Palau and even build business to compete with Palauans. That can be an answer to those stateless individuals where it gives them the opportunity to live in Palau but not own lands as compared to a Palauan citizen.”
The forum was closed with the question: Should there be a 3rd constitutional convention? Most panelist answered that time will tell and until then; there are already provisions in the constitution that give us the chance to do so anytime.
The former Constitution Convention members on the panel were: Warren Umetaro, Mark Rudimch, Patrick Tellei, Stevenson Kuartei, Valentino Emesiochel, Surangel Whipps Jr, Arnold Oilouch and Sandra Pierantozzi from the 2nd con con. Panelists Johnson Toribiong, Laurentino Ulechong, and Haruo Wilter, who were members of the 2nd convention, were also the living original framers of Palau’s Constitution.