CNMI Governor’s Impeachment Process Now Up To Senate

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CNMI Governor’s Impeachment Process Now Up To Senate Officials discussed articles of neglect before voting

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 13, 2013) – The democratic process of removing Northern Marianas’ Governor Benigno R. Fitial from office for allegations of felony, corruption and neglect of duty is not over yet, says Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero who also vowed to "vigorously and meticulously" prepare for the Senate trial.

"The process is not over. We have only gone as far as pushing it to the Senate," he said.

"We have just carried the ball from where we left off to where we are now. It’s an uphill battle in the Senate," he added.

The House approved the five remaining articles of impeachment at 11:30 a.m. yesterday charging Fitial with neglect of duty.

By a vote of 16 to 4, the House adopted Article 13 which pertains to the governor’s failure to appoint public utilities commissioners; Article 15, his failure to appoint a Department of Public Safety commissioner; Article 17, his failure to appoint a Department of Public Lands secretary; and Article 18, his failure to appoint a Department of Public Works secretary.

Regarding Article 14 which pertains to Fitial’s failure to appoint a chief justice, only 15 voted yes and four voted no. Rep. Roman C. Benavente, IR-Saipan, abstained. He told reporters after the session: "It’s just personally my own opinion. I won’t disclose why, but it’s the way I felt based on what I read. I wanted to be neutral in regard to that particular article of impeachment."

The House adopted 13 articles of impeachment by a vote of 16 to 4 last Monday, making Fitial the first governor to be impeached in CNMI history.

In rebutting each of the allegations, the four-member minority bloc stuck to their "position paper." which many believe was prepared by Fitial’s lawyers.

The House on Monday adopted Articles 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 accusing Fitial of felony, corruption and neglect of duty for the unauthorized release of a federal detainee from Corrections on Jan. 8, 2010 so she could give the governor a massage at his Gualo Rai residence.

Also adopted were Articles 4, 6 and 11, charging the governor with felony, corruption and neglect of duty for using government resources in escorting then-Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham to the Francisco Ada/Saipan International Airport to help him avoid being served with a penal summons for misconduct in public office and violations of CNMI election and ethics laws.

Articles 8 and 16, which pertain to the awarding of the $392,000 sole-source contract to former Commerce Secretary Mike Ada, were also adopted on Monday.

Likewise adopted on the same day were Article 9, accusing Fitial of corruption for signing the $190 million no-bid, power-purchase contract with Saipan Development LLC; Article 10, accusing the governor of neglect for not imposing sanctions against Buckingham who violated the Hatch Act; and Article 12 accusing the governor of neglect for his failure to appoint Civil Service commissioners.

Deleon Guerrero said the Legislative Bureau staffers will transmit the committee report to the Senate.

Neglect

During yesterday’s session, the minority bloc argued over the definition of "neglect."

"What is your understanding of neglect?" House Minority Leader George N. Camacho, R-Saipan, asked the House leadership.

He said he asked this question because if it means "to disregard a duty," then a lawmaker who fails to introduce a bill must also be impeached for neglect.

Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro said the failure to pass revenue-generating measures like the Saipan casino, which she supports, should also be a ground for impeaching lawmakers for neglect.

"Shall we say that it is considered neglect that we went against measures that would address the NMI’s economic problems?" Ogumoro, R-Saipan, asked.

Rep. Richard B. Seman, R-Saipan, said the members of the Legislature should have also been impeached for neglect when they failed to pass a budget on time in 2010 causing an eight-day partial government shutdown.

Seman, at the same time, blamed the senators’ rejection of the governor’s appointments.

He said the governor had been trying to make sure that his appointments "would fly," but the Senate rejections of executive appointments made it difficult for him to find more nominees, Seman added, without citing examples of such rejections.

Responding to Camacho’s argument about neglect, Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan, said that even though a lawmaker fails to introduce a bill, as long as he or she makes sound decisions in voting for a measure on the floor, and makes sure that it is in the best interests of the public, he or she does not neglect his or her duty.

As for the casino measure, Deleon Guerrero said it was rejected through the legislative process so the lawmakers cannot be accused of neglect.

The Legislature, moreover, brought it to the people twice and it was the people who decided to reject the casino proposal, he said.

"So Ogumoro’s question is irrelevant," he added.

The speaker reminded Seman that lawmakers and their staffers also suffered when they failed to pass the budget on time because none of them were able to get paid.

Rep. Christopher D. Leon Guerrero, IR-Saipan, said the House has 20 members to decide on the budget so it is an understandably contentious issue.

In the executive branch, he added, the governor is the only one who can decide to appoint, but he did not do it.

Vice Speaker Francisco S. Dela Cruz, IR-Saipan, noted that everybody knows what can happen when there is no permanent commissioner at DPS. Things tend "to run amuck" when there is no one who has the permanent delegation of authority over the department, he said, adding that when the former AG tried to evade his penal summons, police officers were getting orders to do things not allowed by law.

Dela Cruz also said that Seman may have brought up a good point about the Senate rejection of appointments, but it was still the job of the governor to appoint.

The issue, Dela Cruz said, is not about ensuring the Senate will approve his appointments. The issue is his neglect of duty for not appointing anyone.

Committee report

After voting on five articles of impeachment yesterday, House Floor Leader Ralph S. Demapan, Covenant-Saipan, moved to adopt the committee report recommending the passage of House Resolution 18-2.

By a vote of 16-4, the committee report was adopted.

Ogumoro then moved to attach the minority’s position paper to the committee report, but it was defeated by a vote of 4 to 16.

Rep. Tony P. Sablan, IR-Saipan and the chairman of the impeachment panel, argued that the minority bloc’s position paper was not part of the committee report. It was also never part of the discussions during the impeachment hearings from which Ogumoro and Santos had withdrawn.

Dela Cruz said the minority can send it to the Senate, but not with the committee report.

Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan, said something that is not a product of the special committee on impeachment should not be included in the package to be transmitted to the Senate.

Rep. Teresita A. Santos, R-Rota and a minority bloc member, said their position paper may be submitted to the Senate in the form of a House communication.

Thank you

Demapan, in a privileged speech just before the session adjourned, applauded the impeachment panel chairman and his "esteemed" members for completing a "difficult" task and enduring the "pain" of conducting a transparent investigation into the ethical conduct of the governor.

"Today, we will rewrite our political history and shape our political destiny," he said.

"While I consider myself extremely privileged for this magnificent opportunity to uphold our Constitution, I also feel a deep sense of restraint to proceed with prudence in order to preserve our abiding faith in our self-government," he said.

"To those who remain skeptical about our constitutional duty, I remind you that impeachment is squarely intended and designed as a fundamental duty of inquest into the fiduciary conduct of public officials. I further implore the Senate to remain steadfast and unwavering in its equally solemn duty to exercise prudent judgment in good faith, based on facts and reason," he added.

Ogumoro said she was still not convinced that the governor committed acts that warrant impeachment. She said the people’s mandate is to find money to help the economy, the Retirement Fund and the Public School System. The people’s mandate, she added, is to find money to create jobs and help families who are suffering from economic hardships.

Santos said: "Don’t judge so you will not be judged."

House managers

Now that the impeachment resolution is on its way to the Senate, Deleon Guerrero said their role will be to serve as House managers.

He said they are waiting for the Senate rules to determine if there is to be a prescribed number of managers for the trial.

Deleon Deleon Guerrero said the House leadership has discussed it informally and agreed that the House members who have been involved in the process from the very beginning will be included on the team of House managers.

Fitial will be removed from office if six of the nine senators find him guilty of any of the 18 charges against him.

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