John Haglelgam Responds to Chuuk Independence Movement Questions

This past December, former President John Haglelgam wrote a thought-provoking Letter to the Editor in The Kaselehlie Press about the Chuuk Independence Movement. TFB Micronesia was fortunate enough to ask him some questions about the Chuuk Independence Movement (with some from the public) and more about his opinions about the movement.

TFB: Where do you stand on the Chuuk Independence movement?

John Haglelgam: As far as the FSM Constitution is concerned, Chuuk State has violated its “solemn obligation” to promote, support, and advance unity in the FSM.  This movement is unconstitutional. It is a rebellion against the corpus of the FSM. Under international law, the FSM is a legitimate legally constituted political entity (the proper term is state) with its own sovereignty. Sovereignty is the ultimate and supreme law and policy-making authority of every independent state. It is the soul of state. It is that element of the state, which distinguishes the state from all, other associations. Once legally constituted, at state becomes a breathing, conscious, and living body which cannot be destroyed in as much as a living person cannot be killed. The sovereignty is indestructible, and those who are trying to destroy it are committing treason and sedition against the corpus of the FSM.  

TFB: By 2023, compact funding is expected to expire. It is estimated in the FSM 2023 Action Plan and by members of the CPSC that there will be a $20 million budgetary shortfall for the State of Chuuk. This has been the primary reason behind the secession movement. What is your response to this reasoning?

JH: I can say with a straight face that an independent Chuuk will find no place to get the $20 million. No wealthy country in the world is in the business of handing out welfare checks to the poor countries. Perhaps an independent Chuuk can find donations from the charity organizations. That being said, let me just point out that poverty and lack of economic development are poor reasons for the secession movement. The more persuasive reasons are massive violations of human right and genocide as we saw in the case of Kosovo in Bosnia and Southern Sudan.

Just imagine this scenario: In 2023, the United States inform the FSM and the Marshalls that they would have to depend on the earnings from their respective national trust fund. If the United States is unwilling to renew Marshalls Compact where it has Kwajalein military base, why would it be willing to negotiate a new compact for Chuuk? Is it a good reason because Chuuk needs money? I think it is the worse reason for secession and for a hope of negotiating a compact of free association with the United States. When I asked a crazy man in town the other day why should I give him money? He said because I have money and he does not. Chuuk seems to follow this crazy man’s philosophy.     

TFB: A major argument for independence is inequality. For example, Chuuk has over 50% of the FSM’s population but it receives less than 50% of the funds. It also has the least amount of congressmen for its population. How do you respond?

JH: Under Compact I, the formula used to divide the grant was 70/30. The 70% was divided according to population and the remaining 30% was divided equally among the four states and the national government. The equal division of 30% recognized the fact that all states had similar needs such as public utilities, roads, etc. Under this formula, Chuuk still received a larger amount of grant than any of the three other states.

I think it would be useful for us to look at how the four states utilized their grants. All the three states kept the integrity of their grant intact and used up to 40% for government operation and 60% for social and economic development. Chuuk, however, divided up 40% of its grant among the municipalities without giving them any social or economic development to fund. The grant given to the municipalities became a private fund for each mayor. Meanwhile, Chuuk was struggling to fund elementary education and secondary school, and medicine shortage became acute in the state hospital and the dispensaries.

When Compact I ended, Chuuk did not have anything to show for its share of the grant. The other three states, however, had paved roads and upgrade their public utilities. What had happened to Chuuk share of the grant under Compact I? It was misused. Chuuk, for all practical purposes, is administrative BIG BLACK HOLE. It just gobbled up the funds with almost no trace.

The problem with Chuuk is not so much the lack of fund, but the widespread corruption. Chuuk state has developed a very corrupt patronage political system. This corrupt patronage system is deeply embedded in the political culture and in mainstream state politics.    

TFB: Other than the aforementioned reasons, do you believe there is another reason for this independence movement? If independence is not the answer to Chuuk’s economic and political woes, what is?

JH: No, I do not believe there is another reason. I agreed with you that the principle reason is money. I think the state leaders are collectively delusional.  Compact grant and foreign aid will not develop Chuuk state economy. The main push for developing Chuuk state economy should come from within, but Chuuk must expunge all the corruption within its governmental system. If Chuuk fails to clean up its corrupt political practices, its social problems, and its inept state administration, then economic development problems will continue to fester. Chuuk Lagoon ranked at the top of the wrecked diving spot worldwide, but the corruption, the social problems, the lack of even basic medical facility is discouraging tourists.

TFB: The CPSC reviewed other political statuses (commonwealth; US territory; US statehood; status quo) before deciding independence was the best option. They said these other options are, “impractical, unrealistic or impossible”. Do you believe the citizens of Chuuk should have had a say or a vote on these other options? Which of these options do you think is best for Chuuk?

JH: To me the creation of the CPSC is unconstitutional. It violates the Supremacy Clause of the FSM national constitution. What the CPSC is doing is a direct copy of what the Congress of Micronesia did to liquate the Micronesian trusteeship.  There is no option open to Chuuk now. Chuuk is a political subdivision of the Federated States of Micronesia, recognized as a fully sovereign state under international law. As a fully sovereign state, FSM is a breathing and living political entity. It cannot be dismembered and its integrity should not be violated. Those who seek to dismember and violate the FSM sovereignty are committing treason and sedition.     

TFB: In 2015, a “Task Force on Unity” was created. Secretary Gallen of the DOJ commented on the legality of the independence movement saying, “separation or secession is not allowed, under the framework of [the FSM constitution]”. You have expressed similar interpretations. However, Secretary Gallen adds that the act of asking the question of secession is not illegal. The question then becomes, at what exact point does the secession movement become illegal?

JH: I think the attorney general is erred in his interpretation of the FSM constitution.  If Chuukese are just talking about secession without taking action such as setting up a commission to carry out their intension, then the talk of secession may be protected by the freedom of expression under the FSM constitution and nothing may be done about it. But once Chuuk created the CPSC to carry out its secession plan, then it has crossed into the realm of committing an unconstitutional act. In another words, its act become illegal. The creation of the CPSC is the beginning of the act of secession. It’s the first organizational act. The vote on whether to secede is part and parcel of the whole secession movement. To me, Chuuk is already in violation of its solemn obligation to support unity in the FSM (Section 3, Article XIII of the FSM Constitution).  

TFB: CPSC members would argue that the constitution is “silent” on secession. Therefore it is permissible. How do you respond?

JH: I would ask them to read the whole Journal of the Micronesian Constitutional Convention. I was there as a staff and I sat on the Special Committee when we discussed a delegate proposal to allow the states to secede in the first fifteen years of the Constitution. After a lengthy debate and discussion, the Special Committee adopted what became Section 3 of Article XIII of the FSM constitution. So the proposal that would allow secession for the first fifteen years under the FSM constitution was transformed into a “solemn obligation of the states…” to support unity in the FSM. Clearly this provision does not allow secession. The prohibition of secession in the FSM constitution is hiding in plain view. To those unfamiliar with FSM constitution, it is hard to find because it is not stated in prohibitive statement. It is rather framed as a solemn obligation of Chuuk state to support national unity and the FSM constitution. Solemn obligation is different from ordinary obligation in that it is the highest order of obligation. It is an obligation with religious passion.  

TFB: If the citizens of Chuuk vote “no” to secession, what assurances do they have that the CPSC will stop the independence movement?

  - Will a vote of “no” end the CPSC? Or can the commission continue to exist?

JH:  I truly don’t know. I think Chuuk state leaders are sold on the idea that an independent Chuuk would be better off. I think Chuuk state leaders are completely delusional. Now Chuuk state has big problems. Its education and health care systems are the worst in the FSM; its administration is corrupt and weak, to say the least. Chuuk, if it ever becomes independent, will carry all its social, political, and economic problems with it into independence. This current CPSC is unconstitutionally created. Its creation violated the supremacy clause (Article II) of the FSM constitution.  As an unconstitutional body, it should be abolished.                                                                                                      

TFB: Can the FSM DOJ stop the formation of another CPSC after a vote of “no”?

JH: This secession movement is a national issue because it has a potential to dismember the Federated States of Micronesia. Since the FSM national integrity is at stake, I think the FSM DOJ should be involved. The FSM attorney general should issue a legal opinion regarding the constitutionality of the Chuuk separation movement. I think the illegality of the secession movement should be officially communicated to the CPSC. I think the FSM DOJ should investigate this movement for breach of national security laws.

TFB: Do you think the FSM will be better off without Chuuk?

JH: Yes, probably the FSM would be better off without Chuuk. But it is hard to encourage the dismemberment of the FSM just because Chuuk is a bad state. You do not cut off your limbs because it is painful. You treat it and try to get rid of the pain.

TFB: An independent Chuuk will have to compete with Yap and Pohnpei for resources, tourism, and territory. How much can Chuuk lose/gain geographically and economically to Yap and Pohnpei?

JH: I do not see much competition between Chuuk and any state in the FSM. In term of fisheries, most of the productive fishing takes place south of Kapingamarangi in Pohnpei state and Eauripik in Yap state.  In term of tourism, Chuuk Lagoon is one of the wreck diving meccas in the world. So once Chuuk straighten out its internal social problems, it will become a major wreck diving spot in the Pacific. There is no need to compete for tourists. I think it is an area of development in which we should cooperate.  Geographically, the delineation of boundaries between Chuuk and Pohnpei, and Chuuk and Yap are already established. I do not think there is a problem there, unless Chuuk causes some.   I do not see any economic problem either.

TFB: Should some outer-islands of Yap have the option to join an independent Chuuk given their close lineage?

JH: I do not see any other islands in outer islands of Yap joining an independent Chuuk. This sawei relationship with Gagil anchored the outer islands to Yap state. It takes care of the outer islands people during their stay in Yap and several island-communities have purchased parcels of land and built their communities on Yap Islands Proper. No outer island-community will get treatment like this in Chuuk. I know that some Chuukese leaders coveted the outer islands of Yap, but I do not think Yap outer islands should want to join an independent Chuuk. No, thank you very much. We are not interested.   

TFB: What will happen to Chuuk’s share of the trust fund if it secedes?

JH: I do not know, but it is important to remember that Chuuk state did not put up its share of the initial capitalization of the trust fund. FSM might just argue that Chuuk, since it secede[s], [does] not deserve to receive anything from the trust fund. 

TFB: Should the national government create another Task Force on Unity?

JH: I think it would be much more useful and successful to create national unity curriculum that should be taught at several class levels in school. In the meantime, our congress should enact a law requiring people to honor the FSM flag, learn and sing the national anthem at every event. This is symbolic but very important for developing loyalty, and patriotism in the FSM citizenry.  

TFB: CPSC members have made arguments to suggest that Chuuk can be an independent nation like Palau or Nauru. However, Palau and Nauru have resource and location advantages. What does an independent Chuuk have economically? And will it be enough?

JH: Chuuk can be independent, but it will never be like Palau. As you pointed out, Palau has the advantage of being located near the Asian tourist market. Chuuk has a very big disadvantage. It is a fail state and it is rife with corruption, mega social instability, lack of social development, and a very corrupt political culture. All of these are huge disincentives for foreign investments and foreign aid, and it certainly not conducive to economic development.

In their mind, the Chuukese are certainly like the highlanders in New Guinea.  During WWII, the US army would zoom into an area and set up a temporary airport. The cargo planes would come in and disgorged cargoes for the US army.  After the war, when the US army was gone the people of the New Guinea highlands would build airports and wait for the cargo planes to come in bringing the cargoes. Of course, the planes never come. This movement came to be known as Cargo Cult. The Chuukese are plagued with Cargo Cult mentality.     

TFB: Other neighbors (Guam, RMI, and CNMI) have given land and entire islands to the US military in exchange for aid. Should an independent Chuuk pursue a similar arrangement?

JH: Let me answer your question with a question:  Does the United States have military requirement in Chuuk? Probably the answer is NO. During the Compact negotiation, the United States asked for land for military use in the Marshalls, Palau, and CNMI.  This United States did not express any interest for any land for military use in Chuuk at all.

TFB: Should the FSM government allow Chuukese citizens the option to become FSM Nationals if they do not wish to join an independent Chuuk?

JH: I think any Chuukese who want to remain FSM citizen should be accorded the chance.  But I do not anticipate any Chuukese to do this, except the Mortlockese.  

TFB: Does Chuuk have a better chance of secession through a constitutional amendment?

JH: I do not believe so. It is very hard to amend the FSM Constitution, unless the other states really want to kick out Chuuk from the FSM and their willing to dismember their own country in the process.

TFB: The Chuuk Independence movement is an FSM issue. Should the other three states be more involved in this discussion?

JH: Definitely, the national government, all the states, and any interested person should join the debate regarding Chuuk secession.


TFB: Should we be using this time to negotiate for an extension of compact funding?

JH: I believe we should already put out the feelers and try to gauge the United States position.

TFB: Chuuk has been described as lawless and corrupt. Are you concerned that an independent Chuuk will have no outside national government to keep it under control?

JH: That is a real concern.  Social instability will become an epidemic in Chuuk if it gains independence. It will not go away. It will multiply ten or maybe twenty folds.

TFB: Do you believe that there are foreign agents (government and/or private businesses) who are pushing this independence movement?

JH: No, I do not believe there is any foreign involvement in this Chuukese secession. I think Chuuk is being led by incompetent, ill – uninformed, and delusional leaders, which is unfortunate, to say the least.