Decision On Vacant CNMI Senate Seat Questioned

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Joaquin Borja allegedly threatened to resign over court ruling

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 22, 2013) – Sen. Joaquin H. Borja (Ind-Tinian) questions the Supreme Court’s ruling that paved the way for the appointment of Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) to fill a vacancy left by Juan M. Ayuyu, as well as his new appointment based on the 2012 election results that he said should therefore give him a four-year term ending January 2017, instead of only up to January 2015 based on the 2009 race.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos is standing by his Tuesday decision to affirm Borja’s appointment pursuant to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, press secretary Angel Demapan said.

Borja was appointed in March this year to fill the vacancy for a Tinian senatorial seat when former president Jude U. Hofschneider became lieutenant governor, since he was the second highest vote getter in the 2009 elections.

On Tuesday, Gov. Eloy S. Inos affirmed Borja’s appointment based on the results of the 2012 elections wherein he was also the second highest vote-getter.

But Borja claims the Supreme Court ruling was wrong.

"My message to the justices is, please revisit your decision," Borja told Saipan Tribune in an interview at the commuter airport yesterday afternoon, shortly before boarding a plane for Tinian. "The court making judgment is not the final answer. The people will hear the same question again. I am sorry for the people of Rota."

Borja questioned the court decision that paved the way for Manglona to be appointed, when Manglona didn’t run in the same election Ayuyu ran in 2009.

He believes Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas made the right call in his legal opinion that the phrase "last election" refers to the election in which the member who held the vacant seat was elected.

"Why would the court ruling apply to my appointment retroactively? When you impose on me the 2012 elections results, will you give me the four-year term starting based on the 2012 elections? This is an important question that I now pose to the public and the court," he said.

The Tinian senator said he is considering bringing the matter to a U.S. court.

Borja added that the Board of Elections was bypassed when a question was brought to the court first.

Session snubbed

Because of his reservations about the court ruling and the governor’s appointments, Borja did not attend Tuesday afternoon’s Senate session.

However, he was in the legislative building on Capital Hill and participated in some of the deliberations among senators.

Meanwhile, in the Senate chamber, most people were oblivious to the drama that was unfolding behind closed-doors.

Senators separately told Saipan Tribune that Borja threatened to resign on Tuesday.

When asked about this, Borja said he was able to say these things in the midst of frustration.

"I am staying on," he said, adding that he is not receiving a salary as a senator but is drawing his retirement pension.

Senate vice president Victor Hocog (R-Rota) said he understands where Borja is coming from.

"He posed good questions that even senators could not answer," Hocog said.

Hocog said Rota voters also raised the same questions on the court ruling that led to Manglona’s appointment.

"But like what I told Rota voters, we need to move on. The court made a decision, let’s move on, work together for the people," he said in a phone interview.

‘Manglona almost out’

Hocog also said even if the Supreme Court ruled on the certified question, the Senate credentials committee could have decided not to accept Manglona’s credentials.

Senate sources said that, had the Credentials Committee been composed of one or two other senators, the recommendation would have been not to accept Manglona’s credentials.

But Torres named the Credentials Committee members as follows: Chairman Sen. Frank Borja (Ind-Tinian), Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan), and Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian).

The Credentials Committee submitted two reports to the full Senate—one for Manglona and the other for Jack Borja.

By a vote of 6-0, the Senate adopted the Credential Committee report on Manglona.

Besides Jack Borja, Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) was absent during the Tuesday session.

The Credentials Committee report specifically stated that Manglona is to serve the remaining term of former senator Juan M. Ayuyu, who is awaiting court sentencing in connection with smuggling endangered fruit bats from Rota to Saipan.

After Manglona was sworn in and officially started serving his term at the 18th Senate, he also got to vote on the Credentials Committee report on Borja, which was adopted by a vote of 7-0.

Inos administration

When sought for comment, press secretary Angel Demapan said Borja "never raised these concerns to the governor earlier."

"As to the governor affirming Sen. Borja’s appointment based on the 2012 election, this was done in accordance to the Supreme Court ruling. The court, in response to the certified question, ruled that the term ‘last election’ means the last election held prior to the vacancy. It further said that the unsuccessful candidate with the highest votes in that election will serve the remainder of the term vacated. The court did not say that anyone who fills a vacancy will serve a new full term," he said.

Borja, meanwhile, said he doesn’t see the need to be sworn in again.

"I was already sworn in last March. Why would I need to be sworn in again?" he said.

Demapan said there’s no schedule for the governor to swear in Borja based on the recent events.

The Senate will have a session again next week, and it will be held on Rota. This time, with the expectation that important measures such as revenue-generating bills will be acted on.

Political ambitions

Borja said if he’s not going to be serving the full four-year term even if his appointment is now based on the 2012 election results, then he will run as a senator for Tinian in the 2014 elections.

He said he ran under the Covenant Party in the 2009 race, and under the Republican Party in 2012.

"I still consider myself a Republican, under the NMI Republican Party," he said.

Borja said they have a complete slate.

"For Tinian mayor, our candidate is Joseph Mendiola. For representative, we have former representative Edwin Aldan. For senators, there’s me and Ray Cing," Borja said.

Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider and Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) are also running under one team for Tinian senatorial seats.

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