John Haglelgam

Photo by Shaun Suliol

TFB Micronesia had the opportunity to ask former FSM President, John Haglelgam, some questions. He answered questions about his experiences working for a nascent Micronesian government, his thoughts on Dual Citizenship, and the future of the FSM. (Editors note: We had intended for this to come out before the elections/referendum and apologize for not getting this published sooner.)

TFB: First, if you could please give us an introduction and some biographical information for our readers.

John Haglelgam: My name is John Richard Haglelgam. I was born and raised on Eauripik in the outer islands of Yap State. Eauripik is an atoll which had five islands, two had washed away and only three remained.  Perhaps Eauripik is the smallest inhabited island in the outer islands.

I attended Eauripik Elementary School and Outer Islands High School, first in Asor and later it was moved to Falalop. I completed my high school education at Beaverton High School in Beaverton, Oregon. After Beaverton High School, I went to the University of Hawaii at Manoa where I received a BA and MA, both in political science. I also received a master in public administration (MPA) from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (popularly known as Harvard Kennedy School) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After completing my education, I worked briefly at the Micronesian Legal Service in the Yap District of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1974, I was elected to the House of Representatives of the now-defunct Congress of Micronesia where I served two terms. When the administrative functions of the Trust Territory were devolved to the four emerging successors political entities, the members of the Congress of Micronesia from the districts that ratified the FSM constitution were formed into the Interim FSM Congress. I served in the Interim FSM Congress until the first election of members of the FSM Congress. I did not run in the first election, but I won the at-large seat for Yap State in a special election called to fill the vacancy created when Petrus Tun was elected first vice president of the FSM.

I served two terms in the FSM Congress, and in 1987, congress elected me to serve as second president of our country.  I served one term as president, and I lost my re-election attempt in 1991. After the lost, I decided to look for a new and more intellectually challenging job. This search for a new job led me to the then Community College of Micronesia, which later became the College of Micronesia-FSM. I started teaching at our national college in the summer of 1991, and after twenty-six years, I am still here.

I am teaching History of Micronesia, Micronesian Government and Politics, Introduction to Political Science, World History I and II, and East Asian History.      

TFB: What was it like to be a part in the birthing of a nation?

JH: When I looked back over my years in both the Congress of Micronesia and the first four congresses (each congress life lasted for two years) of the FSM Congress, I am amazed at the dedication, the selflessness, unflinching devotion and loyalty, and the hard work of the members to create a Micronesian nation that would give the Micronesians their political and ethnic identity as people. The effort splintered Micronesia into several political entities, but at least we got our political identity as citizens of our own countries.

The Congress of Micronesia single-handedly brought down the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Its quest started in 1967 and culminated in the creation of the three sovereign countries of Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau (Belau), Republic of Marshall Islands, and a dependent entity of Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (Micronesia) was splintered into four political entities on the way to achieving Congress of Micronesia’s goal, but perhaps it was for the better.

I returned from college in 1973, and walked right into the political excitement and anticipation of the convening of the Micronesian Constitutional Convention in Saipan. This excitement was moderated by the separation of the Marianas, but every one realized that they had made their choice and nothing could be done about it.

I was not a delegate to the 1975 Micronesian Constitutional Convention, but I was there as a staff of the Yap delegation. It was exciting, to say the least, to witness the birth of a nation. Literally, the Federated States of Micronesia was created by the Micronesian Constitutional Convention, but it was on paper only and worthless until 1978 when the voters in Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap ratified the draft constitution and breathe life into it. After its approval, the constitution becomes a living and breathing document, and most importantly, the supreme law in the FSM. Any state or national laws, and international treaties, in conflict with the FSM national constitution are null and void to the extent of the conflict.         

TFB: What lead to your decision to run for office originally?

JH: I ran for the House of Representatives of the Congress of Micronesia in 1974 because I want to represent the people of the outer islands of Yap. I knew that the people in the outer islands needed encouragement to make their own decision, instead of remaining passive and accept everything that comes their way. I wanted my election to be an inspiration to the people in the outer islands to make their own choice and decide for themselves.    

TFB: What do you think are the differences in today's congress vs the first?

JH: There is a huge difference between our congress today and the first, second, and third FSM Congress. The agenda of the first three FSM congresses were national. We established the executive and the legislative branches of the national government. We approved the president’s nominations of the executive branch principal officials and the nomination of the first chief justice. We considered and approved the administrative plans of the executive and the judiciary. We continued to participate in the UN Law of the Sea to ensure that FSM interests are adequately protected. We considered and rejected a proposed flag of convenience for the FSM because of its potential negative impact on national sovereignty. It was an exciting time to create a new national government of our own design and witnessed the emergence of our own nation that freed us from the powerful grip of colonialism.      

TFB: In your letter, you state that the, “proposed amendment is being dressed up as a dual citizenship proposal, but is not.” Can you explain how it is not and why members of congress would “dress up” a constitutional amendment proposal?

JH: If this proposed amendment is approved and Section 3 of Article III is deleted, it does not, in any way or form, create a dual citizenship. However, it removes the requirement to renounce one citizenship (either FSM or the other) before a person reaches 21 years of age.  What it would do is allow the FSM citizens’ children who are born in the US to retain their US citizenship and FSM citizenship. The effect of this proposed amendment is that it will indirectly create a dual citizenship for the FSM. In other words, repealing Section 3 of Article III will create dual citizenship by implication. We can only draw this conclusion from the fact that the restriction on dual citizenship is deleted so it must be allowed. Our Congress referred to it as dual citizenship amendment, but there is no mention of dual citizenship in the entire proposed amendment. It is not explicitly stated.

I think the members of Congress have a hidden motive. I think their hidden motive is this: they want to disempower the voters. If the voters approve this proposed amendment, then the congress will have the power under Section 2(c) of Article IX of the FSM Constitution to regulate dual citizenship. This means that congress can fashion a dual citizenship in any way it desires without the voters’ approval. In another words, it is an empowerment of congress and disempowerment of the voters. To me, it is a case of power grab on the part of the Congress, pure and simple.    

TFB: In the FSM Code, Title 7, Chapter 2, section 2 and 3, it expressly states that “dual citizenship is prohibited”. Will congress have to amend that, if citizens pass the constitutional amendment? And will FSM voters have a say in the amendment of our FSM Code?

JH: No, it will not require amending this code because the FSM Constitution is the supreme law so its amendment would affect all laws pertaining to dual citizenship. No, with regard to dual citizenship, the FSM voters are going to be completely out of the loop forever and ever, Amen.  

TFB: You state that this proposed amendment is a, “disempowerment of the FSM public” and an, “empowerment of the FSM congress”. You also point out the salary and allowance per congressman, calling it, “morally and ethically unjustified”. However for the most part, citizens continue to vote in the same incumbents. Could it be that the public do not see eye-to-eye with your views? Or do you believe the voting public has been misguided?

JH: I have already answered your question regarding empowerment of the congress and disempowerment of the voters. So let me answer the next one. Yes, obviously the public do not see the way I see the direction of politics in the FSM, and I do not expect them to do so.

This $120,000 official allowance for each member is being used to secure the incumbent re-election. This process has created a political system in all of the states, much more so in others, which may be called a “clientelestic” or political patronage system. This system is well entrenched in Chuuk and it is retarding political, social and economic development. It has caused a political cancer in their system. It has rotten and corrupted their political culture so much so that corruption is being practiced as normal politics and regular administration.

This corrupt system was slowly creeping onto the national political scene. Now it has reached the national scene, and I am afraid that corruption will soon become embedded in our national political culture. Some elements of this corruption are already being practiced as “normal” political practice. This obscenely high official allowance and government furnishing of two residences (one in Pohnpei and the other in the official’s state) are examples of this corrupt system.

I believed that the public has been misguided. The members of political education committees have no idea about dual citizenship. I do not blame them because they lack the required educational background to understand such term like sovereignty, nationalism, naturalization, etc. They have no clue about how citizenship relates to sovereignty and nationalism, and how citizenship impacts landownership. Some of the statements they made are outrageous inaccurate and totally misleading.

They did not even have brochures or pamphlets that discuss pros and cons of the proposed amendment. One member just simply said that he liked this amendment because it benefits his two sons in the USA. This is a case of: What is good for my two sons is good for the whole FSM. Public policies should never ever be formulated on this basis. Another member implied the termination of the Compact in 2023 is drawing near and that we should prepare our citizens to assimilate into US culture. You know, this is precisely the reason our founding fathers rejected territorial status and commonwealth. They want Micronesians to keep and preserve their cultures and retain their own political and social identity as people.

I remembered the most popular reading at that time was a book by McHenry entitled: The Americanization of Eden.      

TFB: If the “dual citizenship” proposal passes, will/can congress put into place a new process for naturalization without public input?

JH: Do you mean dual citizenship or naturalization law? As it is now, congress has the constitutional power under Section 2 (c) of Article IX of the FSM Constitution to regulate naturalization and other related issues pertaining to immigration. The FSM Congress prefers to naturalize people by adopting what it called “private bill.” However, congress cannot regulate dual citizenship. It can propose a dual citizenship law, but it must be ratified by the voters in a national referendum. If the voters approve the proposed amendment, then congress will have the power to regulate dual citizenship under the Section 2 (c) of Article IX of the FSM constitution. Unfortunately, the voters and the larger FSM public will be out of the loop forever and ever Amen.

TFB: Do you believe that current members of congress are plotting to allow foreigners to gain access to FSM citizenship?

JH: No definitely not. I think members of our congress are acting out of complete ignorance of the consequences of repealing Section 3, of Article III of the FSM national constitution. One member of congress said that the amendment has nothing to do with landownership because land is a state matter. This guy failed to read Section 4 of Article XIII of the FSM national constitution. This section prohibits non-citizens and corporation not wholly owned by FSM citizens to acquire title to land in FSM.   

TFB: Do you believe that foreign investors have compromised members of congress for the purpose of acquiring land in the FSM?

JH: No, I do not believe so. I think the potential problem will arise if we repeal Section 3 of Article III, the restriction imposed on citizenship. But we never know. In politics, anything is possible.

TFB: Should we revise Article 3 Section 3? If yes, how would you revise it?  

JH: Even though a dual citizenship amendment would benefit all my grandchildren, I will not support it because of its negative impact on FSM national sovereignty and nationalism. You know, the United States does not allow dual citizenship but it cannot prevent it because of Amendment 14th to the US Constitution. This amendment was approved after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. It made the former slaves who were born in America citizens of the US (jus soli). However, by public policy the US does not allow dual citizenship. And that is the reason a person is required to renounce his country’s citizenship when he take the oath of US citizenship and allegiance. In other words, by policy the US adhered to the practice of jus sanguinis.   

TFB: One of your major arguments against dual citizenship itself is that it disrupts nationalism. You state, “the essence of our country, the national sovereignty and the continual development of nationalism, are paramount”. However, one can argue that the Compact of Free Association has been a major disruption to FSM nationalism, in that it promotes “Americanization”. You have in the past been against the COFA. Would you agree that the COFA is just as dangerous to FSM nationalism as this proposed amendment? Would it also be fair to say that the COFA was a mistake, in hindsight?

JH: The Compact of Free Association was good because it liquidated the colonial regime and allowed us Micronesians to run our own government and control our own political destiny. But in the process of getting COFA, we eagerly agreed to several provisions in the Compact that made nation building difficult. One such provision is the COFA citizens’ visa-free entry into the United States. The children of these COFA citizens are not loyal to FSM. Their hearts are with the Uncle Sam. It is not surprising at all. They are used to McDonald’s Big Mac and cheeseburgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pop Eye Chicken, etc. Some of my grandchildren told me that they do not consider themselves as Micronesians. They said they are Hawaiians because they were born there. I am willing to let them remain US citizens; I will not try to amend the FSM constitution to make them eligible for dual citizenship. It is their choice and I will respect that and will stay out of it. But I will not compromise FSM sovereignty and the development of nationalism for their sake. The other bad provision in the Compact is the one that allowed FSM citizens to volunteer to serve in the US armed forces. Service in the US armed forces gives these FSM citizens employment, but in their basic training they were indoctrinated to be loyal to the United States. They have never received comparable training that will make them loyal to their own country. You know after the election in 2013 I was invited to the opening of the new FSM Congress. The gallery was packed with invited guests and members of the public. When the session started, one of the new members, a veteran of the US Marine, took the floor, stood up, and sang the US Marine hymn. He took up about fifteen minutes of the session. I was stunned at his boldness to use the congress session as platform for expressing his support of a foreign country’s military. He should be expelled from congress for his lack of loyalty and devotion to the Federated States of Micronesia.  

TFB: Would you consider running for congress again?

JH: No, I really have no more interest in public life. I think serving for eight years in the FSM Congress and four years as the second president is enough service for my country.

TFB: How do you see the future of the FSM, post Compact funding?

JH: I do not see a promising future for our country. At the beginning of the future political status negotiation in 1969, our negotiators rejected the US offer of territorial and commonwealth statuses. This was a rejection of Americanization of Micronesia. The Americanization was not and never was a part of the equation of the future political status negotiation. The Congress of Micronesia negotiators insisted on compact of free association because this political status would give us control of our own country; the power to preserve our cultures; the power to keep and preserve our land. In other words, after long years of colonial rules in Micronesians, we finally become the master in their own house with clear political identity and cultural identity as a people. Unfortunately,  when we finally achieved our dream to govern ourselves we are letting the dream slip away because we prefer the taste of McDonald’s Big Mac and Cheese Burger, Kentucky fried chicken, and Popeye chicken to our own reef fish, taro, yam, and breadfruit.