Gov. Benigno R. Fitial plans to meet with lawmakers at a time when House members are now weighing the minority bloc's pre-filed resolution to impeach the governor for 16 acts of corruption, neglect of duty, and corruption, including those in connection with a no-bid 25-year $190-million power purchase agreement.
Fitial is expected to return to the CNMI today, after three weeks of official and personal trips to Hawaii, American Samoa, Florida, and Boise, Idaho.
“The governor plans to meet with lawmakers to address any concerns they have,” press secretary Angel Demapan told Saipan Tribune yesterday, when asked whether the governor has a message to lawmakers who are still undecided on whether to vote “yes” or “no” to the impeachment resolution.
Demapan, at the same time, said he's not part of the group that went to Boise, Idaho, where an annual Labor Day softball tournament has been drawing hundreds of CNMI residents now living and working in the U.S.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), one of the seven sponsors of the impeachment resolution, said yesterday it won't be difficult to get at least 14 “yes” votes to impeach the governor “if only people can begin rallying behind us minority [bloc] and begin putting pressure on the leadership members.”
“They can begin to do this when the next session is called at which time the impeachment resolution will be formally introduced,” Dela Cruz said.
House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) said a session will be called this week, mainly to act on the Senate-amended 2013 budget bill. The speaker said he will form a special committee on impeachment once the resolution is formally introduced.
Rep. Sylvester Iguel (Cov-Saipan), one of two remaining lawmakers on island previously unavailable to comment on the impeachment issue, said yesterday that he has not taken a position on the matter.
“I don't have a decision yet. I want to wait for the special committee's report and recommendation first before I make a decision,” he said in a phone interview.
He also said he will decline if and when the speaker asks him to become a member of that special committee on impeachment. Other House members previously asked the same question said they will accept the nomination if asked.
Iguel echoed Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero's (Ind-Saipan) concerns that “from the start, this impeachment process won't be fair and impartial” because some House members and the full Senate are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the power purchase agreement.
“That doesn't make sense. I don't think there's going to be fair and impartial process because the Senate where conviction or not will take place already took a position on that agreement that is in the impeachment resolution. How else could they assure of a fair and impartial process? To me, once this resolution passes the House and goes to the Senate, the governor is as good as convicted,” Iguel said.
As of yesterday, only eight House members said they will vote “yes” on the impeachment resolution.
At least 14 “yes” votes are needed from the 20-member House to impeach the governor. The majority or the House leadership is aligned with Fitial.
Lawmakers hope that Fitial will meet with all lawmakers, and not only with the members of the House leadership.
Fitial had already left the CNMI when news broke about the secretive power deal that has a guaranteed price of $190.8 million and was signed a day before former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham left the island despite an order for him to appear in court two days later in connection with criminal charges filed against him.
Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan), one of two lawmakers who have so far said they will vote “no” on the impeachment resolution, said lawmakers should give Fitial a chance to meet with them so he could personally explain the power purchase agreement and others alleged in the resolution to impeach him.
The eight “yes” votes on the impeachment resolution so far are from the seven House minority bloc members that pre-filed the impeachment resolution: Reps. Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), and Trenton Conner. The eighth “yes” vote will be from Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan).
House floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan) will abstain from voting because of conflict of interest, while Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan) is not expected to be back to the CNMI any time soon for medical reasons.
The other 10, just like Iguel, are either undecided or have yet to take a position on the matter.
At least six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate will convict the governor.
Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota), while not commenting on the issue of impeachment, said if Fitial will really meet with lawmakers, he would like to raise questions about his signing of the power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC.
“What is the significance of signing this agreement? Why? If the contract is good for the CNMI and CUC customers, then why was there no transparency in this process?” Ayuyu asked.
On Friday, a Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits Fitial and co-defendants from pursuing the power purchase agreement.
Meanwhile, an online petition launched by Ed Propst calling on the Legislature to impeach Fitial has 635 supporters or signatures as of 7:30pm last night.
An informal survey by the Saipan Tribune asking if the House minority bloc will eventually have the numbers to impeach Fitial drew 180 “yes” votes and 79 “no” votes as of Sept. 2, 2012.