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Cockfighting: Guam v. CNMI

Credit: Erika P. Rodríguez for NPR

By Nancy I. Maanao

(Capitol Hill, Saipan) The federal Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act clearly makes it a federal felony for cockfighting to happen on Guam and throughout the United States.

The law went into effect on December 20, 2019.

Since taking effect, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico instituted its own law in defiance of the federal cockfighting ban. The law likely will head to federal court, according to the New York Times.

And while major jail time and other penalties are almost assured for those in Guam successfully prosecuted in federal court for breaking the PACT Act, the legal lines are a bit blurred when it comes to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Cockfighting in the NMI, just like in Guam, is a major cultural past time involving hundreds of enthusiasts and participants who wager bets on roosters that fight to the death in domes.

But unlike Guam, the NMI has a covenant with the United States government that leaves some wiggle room for NMI leaders to argue that this federal statute may not apply to the Commonwealth, especially if the CNMI does what Puerto Rico did: take a stance against the federal law.

Article V of the Covenant establishing a commonwealth between the United States and the NMI makes certain Constitutional provisions and federal laws applicable to the CNMI. Anything beyond those, according to the Covenant, "will be applicable within the Northern Mariana Islands only with the approval of the Government of the Northern Mariana Islands and of the Government of the United States."

Under Article IX, Section 903, the Covenant states:

"Nothing herein shall prevent the presentation of cases or controversies arising under this Covenant to courts established by the Constitution or laws of the United States. It is intended that any such cases or controversies will be justiciable in such courts and that the undertakings by the Government of the United States and by the Government of the Northern Mariana Islands provided for in this Covenant will be enforceable in such courts."

If the CNMI government challenges the PACT Act, it stands to reason that it has a stronger chance in federal court of exempting the CNMI from the applicability of this federal law.

Meanwhile, a measure is making its way through the CNMI Senate and was publicly heard in Rota recently regarding animal cruelty. The sponsors of the bill exempt cockfighting from the proposed statute.

As for Guam? It ain't gonna happen.

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