Hundreds carrying banners and posters came out yesterday to either support or oppose impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and hundreds more honked their vehicle's horns as they drove past the two separate rallies in San Jose and Susupe in what could be one of the most divisive political issues in the CNMI.
Fitial faces 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty. Three of those articles of impeachment got the Special Committee on Impeachment's approval on Friday; the rest would be acted on in the days ahead.
Fitial said yesterday that removing him from office is not the solution to the CNMI's problems.
Those who support impeaching him, including House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) and Glen Hunter, said that Fitial is still in “denial” and removing him is “a step in the right direction,” respectively.
The governor said “working together to fix the economy should be our mission.”
“Impeachment is not the solution. In other words.if they remove me from office, our problems will not be gone. So that's why I want to call them again so we can sit down and talk solutions to the problems,” Fitial told reporters at the rally at Minatchom Atdao in Susupe yesterday.
Deleon Guerrero said he “respectfully disagrees” with the governor. “I believe that a lot of the problems are because of him. So I think he's in denial,” Deleon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune. He is the main author of the impeachment resolution.
Fitial said the crowd “against impeachment” was “very overwhelming.”
He said he passed by the crowd of those who support impeaching him and said, “they're doing also what they believe is right for them.”
Hunter, meanwhile, said he agrees that removing Fitial won't solve all of the problems in the CNMI but “it's a step in the right direction.”
“In a very long journey, you have to take the first step, so yes it won't solve everything but it's a step in the right direction,” he said, adding that he's glad the governor acknowledged that “everything is in disastrous state” and cannot be fixed overnight but “getting him out of the office is the first one” of those steps.
Another leadership summit
Fitial, surrounded by his family and supporters during the interview, said he will write a letter to the Senate and House leaderships today, inviting them to a third leadership summit to address the CNMI's problems.
He said the main discussion will be on improving the economy and government, lowering utility costs, addressing the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. and the NMI Retirement Fund.
“Our people are suffering out there because the cost of power is very high. Bringing in the new power plant will reduce the cost of power.so this is what I've been wanting to work together with the Legislature,” he said.
Fitial was referring to a 25-year power purchase agreement with a guaranteed price of $190.8 million that he said would significantly lower the cost of utility.
The no-bid, secretive power deal is among the issues in the articles of impeachment against Fitial.
The leader of the House minority bloc, meanwhile, said the last time Fitial called for a leadership summit, he “offered two solutions-one was casino and the other one was selling of public lands”-which Deleon Guerrero said he neither supports.
Fitial supporters estimated the crowd in Susupe yesterday at 300 to 500, including Cabinet members and Republican candidates and their families.
Some 30 second away by car, near the intersection of Microl in San Jose/Oleai stood over 100 individuals also holding placards and posters calling on Fitial to be impeached or resign.
While the pro-Fitial crowd was evidently bigger, the anti-Fitial crowd got the most response from motorists passing.
“They got the numbers; we got the spirit,” Hunter said.
Fitial belied accusations that he required government employees to attend the rally in Susupe.
“No, that's not right. I never asked anybody to come here in the first place. This is an initiative by my family, started out last Friday, so it grew out to be a rally today.Nobody was forced to come,” he said.
A feast was served for everyone at the pro-Fitial rally.
Those at the anti-Fitial rally didn't take a lunch break. One of their signs read, “We don't need beer, we need justice.”
Fitial supporters repeatedly drove past the pro-impeachment crowd, and both camps reacted every time.
Leila Staffler and others said many in the community are “silent” supporters of the impeachment movement.
“I'm proud that there's more than five in the crowd because of the thick atmosphere of fear.I want to thank everyone who showed up, and those who honked their horns to support us. Others who couldn't stand here with us, I hope you won't vote for those who support people who broke the law. I also encourage those who can't come out to work behind the scenes by talking to their representatives to impeach the governor,” Staffler told Saipan Tribune.
Staffler, holding a placard that read, “Don't be afraid. Do the right thing,” said she was naïve when she voted for Fitial during his first term.
Marja Lee Taitano, holding a placard that reads, “Protehi I Tanota,” said she made a “big mistake” by supporting Fitial and for helping establish the Covenant Party under Fitial.
Bonifacio Sagana, Rabby Syed, Itos Feliciano, and other leaders of worker groups also showed their support to the pro-impeachment crowd.
'United We Stand.'
Dolores S. Rasiang, a Dandan resident and Fitial supporter, said some lawmakers have been in their positions for several years “and have done nothing to help the CNMI.”
“They only blame the governor but they themselves are not doing anything. I agree with Froilan that it's a 'do-nothing Legislature.' They are just getting paid by taxpayers and do nothing. The governor has been the one doing so many things,” Rasiang said, as she held a placard that read, “Do-Nothing Legislature. Neglect of Duties.”
At least two giant signs in Susupe read, “We support Governor Fitial. United We Stand.”
The pro-impeachment rally's response, “United We Stand. In Fitial We Fall.”
Merced Ogumoro, a Capital Hill resident and Fitial supporter, said the governor “knows what to do for the betterment of the CNMI people like the economy.”
She said there won't be enough votes to impeach the governor at the House of Representatives.
Ron A. Muna said he's “overwhelmed and very thankful” for the people speaking out and “believing and realizing that they do not have to suffer anymore, that they do not have to live the way they do, living in fear.”
“I truly believe we will have a different governor. It may not be a governor that is perfect but it would be a governor that is pro-active and is here in the islands with us, fighting this battle with us, and making sure that we progress and not have to live the way we are right now. I am also hoping that this would encourage more of our people off island that have fled. to come back home and fight this battle with us,” he said.
He said he begs of Fitial to resign or the lawmakers to impeach him.
“I beg of him to give someone else a chance. It's obvious that he's incapable and probably unwilling to help us other than himself and his supporters,” he added.
Seemeon Odosee, also a Fitial supporter, said the eight House members who have gone on record saying they will vote “yes” to the impeachment resolution should also be asked, “What have you done to help the CNMI?”
“They're there for so many years, some over 10 years, and they have just been sitting, waiting for payday and bitching and disgruntled,” he said.
Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan), one of the House members voting “no” to the impeachment, said the hospital should be the number one priority, not politics.
Jershon Carulla, a 15-year-old Marianas High School student, said he joined the rally because he wants Fitial to be removed from office and replaced with somebody who will prioritize education.
Diana Terlaje, 16, said she joined the pro-impeachment rally because she does not want to see her mother and the whole family “suffer” from work hour cuts.
Laura, a Kagman 3 resident, said Fitial has made the CNMI a laughingstock, citing the temporary release of a federal inmate in January 2010 just to give the governor a massage, and the governor's ties with disgraced Washington, D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
“More recently we got the attorney general running from justice and a power purchase agreement signed secretly. Enough is enough,” she said.
Lily Manalili, the woman who, weeks ago, stood alone by the road leading to and from Capital Hill with the sign, “Honk, Impeach,” also served as an inspiration in the pro-impeachment crowd.
She said it's “great” that people are “coming together” to have their collective voice heard. Manalili was holding the original sign she held in August.
Besides Deleon Guerrero, other lawmakers who authored the impeachment resolution also showed up-Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan), Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan).
The Special Committee on Impeachment will resume its meeting this morning. Deleon Guerrero hopes that all appointed to serve on the panel will participate.
Fitial, when asked about the three articles of impeachment that cleared the special panel on Friday, said this is under the Legislature's purview.
“I will never tell them what to do because that's their prerogative. But I hope that we can again meet together so we can discuss better things to do than to impeach me,” Fitial added.
At least 14 “yes” votes are needed to impeach the governor in the 20-member House of Representatives and at least six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate.
This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution has been introduced to impeach the governor.