CNMI Lawmakers Resume Bid To Impeach Governor

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18th House leaders add 3 new articles to resolution

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 15, 2013) – Immediately after being sworn into office, the members of the Northern Marianas Islands’ 18th House leadership endorsed and pre-filed House Resolution 18-2 that calls for the impeachment of Governor. Benigno R. Fitial.

The new impeachment resolution basically contains the same articles of impeachment defeated by Fitial’s allies in the 17th House in October 2012, but also includes three new charges against the governor.

These three new articles of impeachment accuse Fitial of neglect of duty for failing to nominate a Department of Public Safety commissioner, Department of Public Lands and Department of Public Works secretaries.

H.R. 18-2 still has the four felony charges against the governor for "instigating or assisting in the escape" and permitting the escape of a federal inmate on Jan. 8, 2010; for using government services in assisting the escape and for using government resources in an attempt to allow former Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham to avoid being served with penal summons.

Buckingham was facing two counts of misconduct in public office and two counts of ethics and NMI elections law violations when he was escorted by Department of Public Safety and Commonwealth Ports Authority personnel to the airport to leave the islands on Aug. 4 last year.

The new impeachment resolution still has the five corruption charges against the governor, in connection with the release of federal inmate, the assisted escape of Buckingham from justice and the awarding of the $392,406 sole-source contract to the Integrated Professional Solutions, LLC to handle American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects.

H.R. 18-2 is authored by incoming Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan; and authored by 14 other House members. They were Vice Speaker Francisco S. Dela Cruz, IR-Saipan; House Floor Leader Ralph S. Demapan, Covenant- Saipan; Reps. Tony P. Sablan; IR-Saipan; Janet U. Maratita, IR-Saipan; Ramon A. Tebuteb, IR-Saipan; Trenton B. Conner, IR-Tinian; Mariano Taitano, IR-Saipan; Roman C. Benavente, IR-Saipan; Anthony T. Benavente, IR-Saipan; Ralph N. Yumul, IR-Saipan; Antonio R. Agulto, IR-Saipan; Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan; Christopher D. Leon Guerrero, Covenant-Saipan and John Paul P. Sablan, Covenant-Saipan.

Rep. Edmund P. Villagomez, a pro-impeachment House member, said he has yet to read the new resolution.

Deleon Guerrero said they will act on H.R. 18-2 as soon as possible.

He also said that after the November election "the term public mandate was often used to describe the public’s overwhelming support for the impeachment."

The voters’ message, Deleon Guerrero said, was that corruption, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and the lack of transparency and accountability will not be tolerated by the public.

"As elected officials, we should realize and understand that the public trust is a sacred trust. Once lost, it is literally impossible to regain. And no amount of apologies or promises of change can restore this trust," he said.

And speaking in vernacular, Deleon Guerrero added that they will have to complete what they have started.

Dela Cruz also vowed to fulfill the mandate of the people. He said his commitment is to work with the Senate, other stake holders in the community and the "new administration."

After the inaugural session, he explained that the "new administration" he was referring to was not Fitial’s but that of Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos who will be governor once Fitial is impeached and the Senate convicts him.

Former Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente, who headed the pro-impeachment House members in last election, said they have to complete the impeachment process.

"I continue to feel that it should be a priority because we do have a lot of challenges and we have a lot of work to do but the first thing that needs to be done is to remove the governor because he has been the problem in the way over the last several years in resolving these problems," he said.

He said he likes what the Vice speaker said "and I look forward to the continuing effort."

Benavente was the first lawmaker who asked the governor to resign. He was also one of those who encouraged the 17th Legislature to move forward with the impeachment process.

"I still believe that is necessary. So I look forward to these legislators moving on to the impeachment," he said.

Asked how confident he is that the governor will be convicted by the Senate, Benavente said "I still feel confident that there are six or more yes votes in the Senate for the conviction."

Anti-corruption activist Glen Hunter agreed with Dela Cruz, saying his statement was a good one.

"It was a very deliberate statement that they will move forward to impeachment and he is willing to cooperate with the new administration. It is good and I’m glad of it," he said.

But Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro, R-Saipan, said that she would like to focus her energy and attention on "moving the commonwealth forward" so the impeachment is not a priority for her.

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