On the passing of CNMI Founding Father Edward DeLeon Guerrero Pangelinan

Edward Pangelinan

By Jose Dela Cruz

The entire CNMI mourns the passing of one of the Commonwealth’s most distinguished citizens and statesman—Edward DLG. Pangelinan. Eddie Pangelinan—as many of us fondly called him—was truly one of our most distinguished leaders. One of a handful of youngsters from the Northern Mariana Islands who, against all odds, decided to go to Guam in the mid-1950s in order to obtain a high school education and thereafter to attend college on Guam and, later, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Ed Pangelinan was indeed one of the first to break the “glass ceiling” for students from the Northern Marianas in terms of obtaining a post-secondary education.

Continuing his quest to acquire a formal education, Ed Pangelinan was truly a visionary when he thereafter decided to go to law school. He applied to and was accepted at the Howard University Law School, again in Washington, D.C. As an alumnus of that distinguished law school, Ed joined an illustrious group of alumni, which includes the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris. But it was after law school and after obtaining his license to practice law in the late ‘60s that Ed’s star truly began to shine brightly. The people of the then “Mariana Islands District” elected Ed (the first indigenous lawyer from the CNMI) to sit on the Senate of the newly established Congress of Micronesia.

Ed Pangelinan continued to distinguish himself with further accomplishments on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands. For example, when the other political districts of Micronesia began their quest to become independent nations (but in close association with the United States), Ed and the leaders of the Mariana Islands District Legislature decided to advocate for the people of the Northern Marianas’ long-standing quest to become a member of the American political family.

Eventually, Ed and the leaders of the Northern Marianas succeeded in convincing the United States Representative to the Micronesian political status talks, to also conduct separate political status talks with the leaders of the Northern Marianas, as they pursue their desire and dream to become a member of the American political family.

Ed was chosen by the Marianas Political Status Commission to serve as its chairman, with Marianas District Legislature President Vicente N. Santos, as its co-chair. Composed of members of the community from both political parties, the Marianas Political Status Commission began separate political status discussions with Ambassador Franklin Haydn Williams, the U.S. President’s personal representative to the status talks.

With the assistance and guidance of their distinguished counsel, Howard Willens of the D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, the Marianas Political Status Commission hammered out, over several years, with U.S. Ambassador Franklin Haydn Williams and his staff, the terms of the Northern Marianas Covenant, through which our islands later became a “commonwealth of the United States” with the right to govern itself internally. Under the terms of the Covenant, the United States agreed not to exercise Congress’ plenary power over the territories under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution, with respect to the Northern Mariana Island. As a result, the CNMI is the only “non-State” member of the American political family that is not under the so-called “plenary powers” of Congress. Unlike Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa, the CNMI is quite unique in this respect.

And who do we have to thank for as the architects of the terms and provisions of the Northern Marianas Covenant? Ed Pangelinan clearly, legislature president Ben Santos, and the members of the Marianas Political Status Commission. These people, under the leadership of Ed Pangelinan, formulated, drafted and adopted the language of the Covenant, which is the legal basis today (and for the past 45 years) for CNMI self-government. The Northern Marianas Covenant is indeed the real and lasting legacy of Ed Pangelinan, a true CNMI visionary, doer and statesman. We, therefore, give homage to Ed for all the hard work and sacrifices that he made so that the people of the CNMI would enjoy the fruits of democracy and freedom. And we give him a final salute as he is laid to rest.

We sincerely thank his wife Dulce, his children and his family for all the work and sacrifices that Ed undertook so that our islands could become a member of the American political family.


Jose S. Dela Cruz is the first chief justice of the CNMI Supreme Court. He is a resident of Upper Navy Hill, Saipan.


  • Alvaro A. Santos

      02/06/2023 at 7:16 PM

    A very fine homage to our founding g father, honorable Ed Pangelinan, from our first Supreme Court Chief Justice, Jose S. Dela Cruz (Ibi).

  • Alvaro A. Santos

      02/06/2023 at 7:17 PM

    A very fine homage to our founding father, honorable Ed Pangelinan, from our first Supreme Court Chief Justice, Jose S. Dela Cruz (Ibi).

  • Dr. Carlyle Corbin

      02/07/2023 at 4:04 PM

    I join with the people of the Northern Marianas in honouring Attorney Eddie Pangelinan, the first Resident Representative to the United States, who recently passed away. Attn. Pangelinan opened his office to me as the representative of the Governor of the US Virgin Islands before we found office space for our DC Office. We later worked together in Washington on mutual issues affecting our respective territories. His historiic work on the commonwealth covenant is legendary, and was instructive to our own political status process in the Virgin Islands. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

    – Dr. Carlyle Corbin
    St. Croix, Virgin Islands

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