Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) said yesterday the ongoing impeachment process “may be illegal” and asked that the issue to remove Gov. Benigno R. Fitial be decided by voters instead of lawmakers, drawing response from his fellow Special Committee on Impeachment members.
Torres, who have gone on record saying he will vote “no” to the impeachment resolution, said after careful consideration and after seeking technical legal advice, he has “come to the conclusion that it is not in the best interest of the people of the Commonwealth, nor the citizens of my Precinct on Saipan to vote to impeach the governor” based on the impeachment resolution now under panel review.
“I now believe that legislative impeachment and a mock trial by the Senate is not the right way to proceed in this matter. The correct path would be to open this question up to the voters by the public referendum and let the people of the Commonwealth decide whether to recall the governor or not,” Torres said in a two-page statement yesterday.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) asked, “What then is in the best interest of the people?”
Torres said none of the reasons or so-called criminal charges in the resolution “are official charges brought by a real court.”
“They are accusations not charges. It is imperative that all criminal allegations be predetermined as official charges authenticated by our criminal justice system prior to use as reasons to impeach,” Torres added.
Dela Cruz said he “totally disagrees.”
“Nobody has to be charged before he can be impeached. Was (former U.S. president Bill) Clinton charged before he was impeached? All these articles are merely allegations,” he said.
Still, Torres said “if the governor cannot be charged and convicted in a court then he should not be convicted by the Legislature.”
Committee chair and House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said the Constitution and laws authorize the Legislature to conduct impeachment proceedings.
Deleon Guerrero and Dela Cruz said the first items discussed during the first meeting of the committee were the constitutional and statutory provisions related to impeachment.
“And it is too late to have this initiative (to remove the governor) to be placed on the ballot. The issues we have right now do not warrant keeping the governor for another two years. I believe this is the correct path to be taken,” Dela Cruz said.
Torres also said any person is “constitutionally innocent until proven guilty,” including governors.
He also said it is widely known that the governor could never get a fair trial at the Senate, even with a fair and impartial judge presiding.
“Therefore, these criminal allegations and this resolution are not ripe for impeachment considerations by the Legislature as the governor has not been charged or even arrested for any of the alleged criminal acts,” Torres said.
He said he has made his decision “not to impeach” the governor.
Torres said if the impeachment resolution authors really want Fitial to step down, they should help voters recall the governor.
“If there is really dissatisfaction those same voters should make the decision to recall him. If the resolution accusations prove to be political posturing, timed to affect the coming elections then no harm is done. If those accusations prove out in a court of law, that would be the time to instigate impeachment proceedings and not before,” he added.