Now that a historic impeachment process has started, the Senate is poised to ask acting Supreme Court chief justice Alexandro C. Castro, Superior Court presiding judge Robert Naraja, or their designee to preside over the impeachment trial if the House impeaches Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said a justice or judge would only preside to ensure, among other things, a fair and orderly impeachment trial that the CNMI has never had before.
This early, Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Sylvester Iguel (Cov-Saipan), and other House members aligned with the governor are saying that once the House impeaches the governor, he's “as good as convicted” even before the Senate holds a trial because of the Senate's bias against the governor.
Manglona said the Senate will be fair and impartial, and each senator's vote will depend on the evidence presented and the defendant's arguments.
Fitial is blaming the Senate and other elected officials for allegedly blocking his efforts to solve the CNMI's problems and using these instead as “negative political tool to cover up their years of inaction and lack of leadership” to fix an inadequate healthcare, a crumbling Retirement Fund, high utility costs, and lack of revenue-generating industries.
The Senate president said the Senate would seek help from a justice or judge to ensure, for example, that evidence is properly presented and that the defendant properly presents his case.
“This will be brought up with the Senate leadership. None of us in the Senate is a lawyer or had served in a trial like this. But the presiding justice or judge won't be able to vote, at least that's how I understand it. Only the senators would vote. We need a lot of consultations on this,” he said.
The House's eight-member Special Committee on Impeachment also now needs all the help it could get as to constitutional provisions on impeachment, applicable laws and regulations, establishment of special committee rules, confidentiality, guidelines, tie-breaking procedures and votes casting, among other things.
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), chairman of the Special Committee on Impeachment and main author of the impeachment resolution, called for the first meeting of the panel tomorrow at 2pm.
Deleon Guerrero set 11 subsequent meetings that start at 9am every week day from Sept. 14 to 28, just in time for the end of the 30-day period that House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) gave the panel to come up with a report and recommendation to the full House.
'Deadlock before meeting'
Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), one of the impeachment panel members aligned with the governor, said that this early, there's already a “deadlock.”
“There's already a deadlock before the meeting could even start. Four already said they're voting 'yes' and the rest are voting 'no' or still undecided but possibly voting 'no' so there's your deadlock,” Torres told Saipan Tribune.
Torres has gone on record saying he will vote “no” to the impeachment resolution.
But just like any other committee in the same situation wherein members are deadlocked, they recommend that a measure be voted on by the full House, and Torres said this may also be the case with the impeachment resolution.
While he is not a member of the impeachment panel, Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) said he would be in the House chamber during the meetings so he could be better educated about the process and the reasons for impeaching or not.
Demapan has also gone on record saying he will vote “yes” to the impeachment. He said he could better justify his decision by knowing as much detail as possible.
Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), one of the co-authors of the impeachment resolution but not a member of the impeachment panel, said he will also be present during committee meetings.
“I want to hear both sides' arguments as they work on the resolution. That way, I could make a more informed decision,” said Yumul, who also earlier said he will vote “yes” to the impeachment.
As for tomorrow's initial meeting of the special committee, Yumul said the panel has to “set the pace and direction of the committee and establish the rules or there will be problems later on.”
For example, the special committee has to establish not only special committee rules for meetings but also rules for “post-meeting confidentiality.”
The committee looks at the use of Mason's as guidelines in the absence of clear House authorities, and would also look at tie-breaking procedures and casting of votes.
They will then go to the review and discussion of the impeachment resolution.
Deleon Guerrero's special committee will then form subcommittees relative to the articles of impeachment, and the work may be divided by the nature of the allegation.
House Resolution 17-111 listed 16 articles of impeachment for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
The CNMI Constitution says the House may initiate impeachment proceedings by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of its members, and the Senate may convict by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of its members.
This means at least 14 “yes” votes are needed in the 20-member House to impeach the governor, and at least six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate to convict him.
So far, only eight House members have gone on the record to say they will vote “yes” to the resolution, seven of them co-authors.
This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution impeaching the governor has been introduced.