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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Impeachment panel could wrap up work by January’s end
Minority bloc hopes ‘fair, open’ discussion

Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan) will be heading the seven-member Special Committee on Impeachment that could wrap up its report and recommendation to the full House of Representatives by the end of January on a resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 18 allegations of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony.

If and when all the 16 sponsors of the impeachment resolution vote “yes,” then the process would move to the Senate for trial in early February.

House minority bloc leader George Camacho (R-Saipan) is hoping that the resolution “will receive a fair and open discussion.” He said he’s pleased that a new panel will have to review and critic each article.

“I hope that most members have yet to decide on their vote when it hits the floor. Otherwise, having a review panel would be futile at best. I just wish for a thorough review by the members prior to voting and to come up with their conclusion after such review,” Camacho told Saipan Tribune.

Two of the members of the impeachment panel will be from the four-member minority bloc, which is expected to decide on the matter today.

Sablan, who was also a member of the impeachment panel last year, said the impeachment panel might hold its first formal meeting on Wednesday, a day after the House’s scheduled Tuesday session wherein the impeachment resolution would be formally introduced.

“The timeframe should be substantially shorter than the 30 days during the previous Legislature. A realistic target date is no later than end of the month,” Sablan said in an interview.

Sablan said the impeachment panel pretty much has all the evidence it needs to support the articles of impeachment, from the work of the previous committee, including subpoenaed documents, oral testimony, and videotaped proceedings and hearings.

House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) convened a leadership meeting yesterday afternoon wherein he finalized the chairmanship of the impeachment panel, which he chaired during the 17th Legislature.

Besides Sablan, the other members of the new impeachment committee from the leadership are Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Chris Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan). Just like Sablan, Dela Cruz and Tebuteb were also members of the previous impeachment panel.

Villagomez said he expects that the panel will conduct itself “professionally and in a respectable manner, to act based on facts and not on emotion.”

The minority bloc will be deciding today which of their members will serve on the impeachment committee.

“We will decide as a group,” Camacho said.

The speaker said although he is not a member of the impeachment committee per se, he could always participate in the meetings as a speaker.

Deleon Guerrero reiterated that the impeachment committee’s report would be the basis for the full House members’ decision, and will become evidence during the trial at the Senate. This early, the Senate is already preparing for such eventuality.

The number of sponsors to date—16—is more than enough to impeach the governor because only at least 14 “yes” votes in the 20-member House are needed to impeach him and move the process to the Senate for trial.

The Fitial administration itself said earlier that the governor recognizes he is up against a supermajority in the House, and “the number of cosponsors pretty much indicates that the process will move up to the Senate.”

The 26-page resolution has three new allegations in addition to the ones retained from the previous resolution, referring to the governor’s failure to appoint a Department of Public Safety commissioner, a Department of Public Lands secretary, and a Department of Public Works secretary. Deleon Guerrero said the governor willfully and continuously ignores the law.

Among the articles of impeachment are in connection with Fitial’s use of a federal inmate temporarily taken out of prison to give him a massage at his house during the wee hours in January 2010, the award of an almost $400,000 sole-source ARRA management contract to a former Cabinet official within days of resignation in 2010, failure to remove a former attorney general after it became clear that the AG used public funds and other resources for a political campaign or gathering, and the signing of a 25-year, $190.8-million power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC.

Fitial is so far the only governor in CNMI history to be the subject of a pre-filed and/or introduced impeachment resolution. Some of the governor’s critics, however, continue to call on him to step down to spare everyone the time, resources, and effort to impeach and convict him.

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