Mon. Sep 16th, 2019

Heir wants ‘just compensation’ over land used by gov’t for school site

A man protested against the government for allegedly continuously using the land he inherited from his mother for public use without just compensation.

Ted T. Joshua, heir to the 23,420-sqm land in Melekeok State where a portion of it is occupied by the Melekeok Elementary School campus, took the chance to air his grievances against the government by bringing a banner that said “vacate the land” during a school event attended by the Ministry of Education (MOE) officials on May 22.

Joshua, in an interview with Island Times, said that his family had been fighting for their rights to the land for over 100 years now since the Japanese occupation.

A document dated July 7, 1969 with heading “statement of facts” about the land from the District Land Management Office revealed that Reklai Tellei, High Chief of Melekeok, allegedly took the land from the original owners and “gave them to the Japanese as a gift in a move to establish a school in the area.” The Japanese government then started to build a school in the property in 1915 until the World War 2 broke out and Japan lost the battle.

When the Trust Territory government took over Palau after the war, Joshua alleged that Chief Renguul of Baulbei Clan, a relative of his mother, entered into a what he described as a “deceitful” agreement with the Trust Territory government to use the same land for a construction of a school.

According to Joshua, Chief Renguul of Baulbei Clan, under the agreement, allegedly made a false claim that he had an unsettled case against the government for ownership of the questioned property and that the Trust Territory government can just go on with the construction of the school while it was being ironed out. Joshua reiterated that it was his mother who owned the property and not the chief.

He also alleged that the Land Used Agreement, which has two versions – one in Palauan and another in English, did not entirely say the same thing as there was a part in the agreement that was written in English that was altered.

The English version, which was a language not spoken and understood by Chief Renguul but which he also signed believing it was the exact translation of the Palaun version, indicated that the land “shall be continued to be used for the school and other public purposes as long as the needs exist.” The Palauan version, however, did not provide any indication or mention of the duration of time in which the land should be used for public purpose, according to Joshua.

Joshua’s mother and brother continued to stake a claim over the property for many years and in around early 1964, they presented a claim that the land belong to the Baulbei lineage. It was, however, only in 1999 when the case was brought to trial.

After several years of fighting for ownership over the property, the Land Court finally issued a Certificate of Title for the land to the heir in 2011.

The title, however, indicated that the property remains bounded to the Land Use Agreement entered into by Chief Renguul of Baulbei clan and the Trust Territory Government in 1970. Joshua expressed disagreement over this part of the land title, saying that the Trust Territory is already inexistent.

Although Joshua is happy that they finally get the claim over the property, he believed that the government did not fully honor Palau’s constitution.

Joshua contends that the government only honor section 10, Article 13 of the Constitution which states that the government should “provide for the return to the original owners of their heirs or any land which became part of the public lands as a result of the acquisition by previous occupying powers or their nationals through force, coercion, fraud, or without just compensation or adequate consideration.”

Joshua alleged that the land had been taken from their family for a long time and that the government allegedly violated Article 13, Section 7 of Palau’s Constitution for not paying him a just compensation for continued used of his private property for public purposes.

Article 13, Section 7 of Palau’s constitution states that “the national government shall have the power to take property for public use upon payment of just compensation.”

“They took my property for a long, long time. They violate section 7 which states the government has to compensate,” Joshua said.

Joshua also claimed that the property should no longer be bounded by the Land Used Agreement with the Trust Territory Government as it had already been superseded by the constitution adopted by the Republic of Palau when it gained its independence in 1994.

Joshua said that he also intends to press charges against the government. (By Rhealyn C. Pojas)