Three allegations related to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's “neglect of duty” cleared the Special Committee on Impeachment and can be acted on by the full House but one of the four absent panel members aligned with the governor said the voting yesterday “meant nothing” unless pro-impeachment House members get at least 14 affirmative votes from the 20-member House.
Fitial can be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate on any one of the 16 articles of impeachment listed in the milestone House Resolution 17-111.
The House minority bloc's impeachment resolution listed five acts of corruption, seven acts of neglect of duty, and four commissions of felonies.
By a vote of 4-0, the Special Committee on Impeachment adopted Articles 12, 13 and 14-all related to neglect of duty-for failure to appoint a Supreme Court chief justice from October 2011 to the pre-filing of the resolution on Aug. 27, and for failure to appoint members of the Civil Service Commission from March 2006 until July 2012, and the Public Utilities Commission from September 2011 until March 2012.
Those who voted to adopt the three articles of impeachment yesterday were Special Committee on Impeachment chair Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), and Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan).
Absent without a notice to the panel chair were vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), and Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan).
Concerned citizen Glen Hunter said yesterday he's “so appalled” that four members “would so blatantly abrogate their duties as our representatives.”
“If they could not take the time or put aside the time to attend such monumental committee meetings, why did they accept the nomination to the committee in the first place? If it was merely to throw a wrench into the system and attempt to delay the process, they should step down and ask the speaker to appoint other members to fill their voids,” Hunter told Saipan Tribune.
Former lieutenant governor and speaker Diego Benavente said yesterday that three to four months ago, he called on Fitial to resign or he will be impeached. Around the same time, Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) also called on Fitial to step down and give way to Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos.
'Not a remedy'
Committee chair Deleon Guerrero said that Fitial's appointment of acting chief justice Alexandro Castro as chief justice on Thursday does not “remedy” the allegation.
Deleon Guerrero, who is also the House minority bloc leader and main author of the impeachment resolution, said the three adopted articles are “irrefutable” and do not need further investigation.
“The law says the governor has 90 days to appoint those members [to the Civil Service Commission and PUC]. The governor exceeded the 90 days. And I don't think any further evidence is needed or need to be investigated by this committee to prove that. It's clear cut as Rep. Dela Cruz mentioned,” Deleon Guerrero told reporters after the meeting went into recess at past 11am yesterday.
Dela Cruz made the motion to adopt the three articles.
Torres, in a separate interview yesterday afternoon, said he and the three other leadership members do not recognize the voting that was made by the four minority members.
Torres questioned the voting. “How can you say it was adopted when there's no majority or 50 percent plus one vote among eight members?” Torres asked.
But the Rules of Procedure that the special committee-including Ogumoro and Fred Deleon Guerrero-adopted on Thursday were clear on the issue of voting.
“Committee action shall be taken by a vote of the majority of the committee members present and voting,” the adopted rules state.
Torres, who was also absent on Thursday when the rules were adopted, insisted that the committee got “bad” legal advice.
“You can quote me on this. They got bad legal advice,” Torres added.
He said the pro-impeachment lawmakers would have a hard time getting at least 14 affirmative votes when the articles of impeachment come up for full House action. When that time comes, he said there should be “at least 14 yes votes or two-thirds of 20 members” regardless of how many are present and voting.
At least six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate are needed to convict the governor.
So far, only eight have gone on record saying they would vote “yes” to the impeachment resolution.
Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero and the three other members of the special committee waited for their leadership counterparts to show up at the scheduled 9am meeting yesterday.
Despite the no-show by the lawmakers aligned with the governor, the four minority members went ahead with the meeting, saying they only need three members to have a quorum.
Deleon Guerrero said he didn't get any notification from the four members that they won't be able to attend the meeting.
He said he knew that Palacios was in Guam.
Deleon Guerrero said he didn't also get any notification from Ogumoro and Torres. He said he met with a staffer from Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero's office, saying the lawmaker was on his way but he didn't show up even after the committee went on recess at past 11am.
Deleon Guerrero said they will create subcommittees when the committee meets on Monday.
If the leadership members don't show up again, he said there might not be a need to create subcommittees and just “deal with the articles as a whole committee.”
Deleon Guerrero said he would ask the leadership members if they are still willing to participate or not.
House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) appointed all the eight members-four from the leadership and four from the minority bloc. None of the appointees declined the appointments.
“I think in all fairness to the other members that were not present, I'm going to ask them if they're still willing to participate. And if they are, they should show up and attend the meetings. If not, they can ask the speaker to be replaced,” Deleon Guerrero said.
This is the first time in CNMI history that an impeachment resolution has been introduced and reviewed by a special committee.
Among the issues listed in the impeachment allegations are connected to a no-bid, 25-year power purchase agreement with a guaranteed cost of $190.8-million, the temporary release of a federal inmate to give the governor a massage in January 2010, the use of armed police and ports police officers to escort and allegedly shield an attorney general from being served a penal summons for criminal charges, and the award of an almost $400,000 ARRA management contract to a person who just resigned as Commerce secretary.
Tomorrow, there would be separate anti- and pro-impeachment rallies. The “Fitial Must Go” rally would be at the Microl intersection from 10:30am to 4:30pm, while the “We Support Fitial” rally would be at or near the Minatchom Atdao in Susupe from 10am to 4:30pm.