Four of the eight members of the House Special Committee on Impeachment aligned with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial want the panel's first meeting today to be held behind closed doors, but the minority bloc led by panel chair Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) is sticking to the published schedule and format wherein members of the public can watch and listen to the proceedings.
Deleon Guerrero said the meeting as scheduled for 2pm today will proceed, and “it is open to the public until such time the members decide to go into an executive session.”
“Every meeting as announced is open to the public,” Deleon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.
He, however, said the letter from committee members from the leadership-vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan), and Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan)-will be addressed today and will be part of the panel's discussion.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), one of the minority bloc members on the panel, said last night that “everything should be transparent.”
“I don't understand why others want this behind closed doors. What's there to hide?” Dela Cruz asked.
The first of the panel's 12 meetings is at 2pm today in the House chamber on Capital Hill. The succeeding meetings every weekday will be held every 9am, up to Sept. 28.
Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) created the special committee to review and make a recommendation on the House minority bloc's resolution impeaching the governor for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
Of the eight members of the panel, four are with the minority bloc and four are with the leadership, which is aligned with Fitial.
In their two-page letter, the members of the House leadership said it is unfortunate that the Impeachment Committee chair scheduled the first meeting “prematurely and should not have been published.”
“As chairman of the committee, we must remind you that you are but one of eight members assigned to this committee. After consultation with the undersigned members, it is clear that you scheduled the first meeting of the committee and generated an agenda for the meeting without consulting with the entire committee,” the leadership members said.
Torres said yesterday this shows that there's already a “deadlock” even before the committee could formally convene.
Ogumoro, Torres, Fred Deleon Guerrero, and Palacios also told the Impeachment Committee chair that “to ensure clarity, participation and avoid needless confusion, [we] respectfully request that only committee members meet with the assigned legal counsel, in order to articulate and memorialize our Special Committee's Rules, as provided by Section V of your proposed agenda.”
“This will ensure a timely and smooth process as we undertake the important task of the issue of impeachment,” the leadership members said.
Dela Cruz said he couldn't say whether this is a delaying tactic by the House leadership, but he hopes the committee will get past this.
Today's first meeting of the Special Committee on Impeachment will tackle constitutional provisions on impeachment, applicable laws and regulations, establishment of special committee rules, confidentiality, guidelines, tie-breaking procedures and votes casting, among others.
House Resolution 17-111 lists 16 articles of impeachment for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
At least 14 “yes” votes are needed in the 20-member House to impeach the governor; at least six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate are needed 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.