* Special committee not ready with report yet
* House minority slams speaker, Fitial for rushed vote
All roads lead to Capital Hill this afternoon as House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) set a 2pm session to act on a milestone resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.
This comes despite the non-completion of a report by a special committee that the speaker formed in August to take up the articles of impeachment.
The House minority bloc, whose four members are in the impeachment panel, claimed yesterday that the speaker was taking direct orders from the governor to rush the voting, in time for the mobilization of Fitial supporters to gather at the Legislature today.
This is the first time in CNMI history that the House of Representatives will vote on a resolution impeaching the two-term governor.
This critical impeachment vote comes days ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections. The governor heads the local Republican Party.
House minority bloc members who are in the Special Committee on Impeachment chaired by Rep. Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said yesterday the speaker's decision not to grant the committee's request for an extension to come up with a report and recommendation up to Friday-just two days from today-is “disappointing” and “very frustrating.”
“It's like pulling the rug from under (sic),” he said.
Deleon Guerrero said the panel granted the request of other members in the committee-particularly the governor's allies, vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan) and Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan)-to bring back witnesses that already testified so they can make an “informed” decision. By doing so the panel went beyond the 30-day deadline.
Despite this, Deleon Guerrero said the committee did not sacrifice fairness, impartiality, and transparency.
“I'm saying that I feel right now, that we were set up for failure,” he said.
The committee is supposed to review today the synopsis of each of the allegations and the evidence gathered from witnesses and documents, and start voting on the 13 remaining articles, before coming up with a final report to the full House on Friday.
“I can only conclude that this is an attempt to prevent the materials from being put on the floor to prevent each member from being able to objectively review and make a decision. I think it is in the governor's interest not to have these materials appear before the members because it would be very hard for the members to vote 'no' on each article if they were to base their decisions on the materials before them so yes, anyone, any reasonable person, would come to that conclusion,” Deleon Guerrero said.
Cabrera, after meeting with the governor and some House members in the governor's main conference room yesterday, told the media he did not grant the extension request because the panel had already a month to do its job.
When the speaker formed the committee, he announced that he's giving the special panel 30 days to review the resolution and come up with a report but it would be up to the committee to ask for an extension.
Cabrera acknowledged his previous statement, but he said the resolution impeaching the governor was “planned way way ahead.”
The speaker declined further media interviews, and so did other leadership members yesterday.
Under House rules, committees have up to 60 days to come up with reports and recommendations.
House minority bloc members, however, believe the speaker is just following the orders of the governor-the subject of the impeachment.
“This is what I know. The reason why they can't backtrack on this decision is because they have been campaigning every night and telling their supporters to come up on Wednesday and support their group. And because they've already announced that publicly, they have to abide by this schedule, that's why it's being held on Wednesday, that's why the extension cannot be granted,” Deleon Guerrero said.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) said he believes the governor has been influencing the speaker “for the longest time.”
“He [speaker] is listening to the governor because the governor makes the orders, there is no question about that,” Dela Cruz said.
The impeachment resolution needs at least 14 “yes” votes in the 20-member House to impeach the governor, and six “yes” votes in the nine-member Senate to convict him. The House leadership is aligned with the governor.
These allegations involve the temporary release of a federal inmate in January 2010 to give the governor a private massage at his residence, signing of a sole-source, $190.8-million power purchase agreement for 25 years despite lack of a full economic analysis, a sole-source award of a $392,406 ARRA management contract, failure to remove his former attorney general despite violations of laws in hosting the governor's delegate candidate, and failure to ensure law enforcement agencies perform their duties of serving-not preventing-penal summons on the same former attorney general, Edward T. Buckingham.
Deleon Guerrero said he asked the Legislative Bureau director to coordinate with the Department of Public Safety, to ensure there's police presence during the House session today “just to ensure the process is done in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
'Wholesale vote or piecemeal vote'
Dela Cruz said there are two ways the House leadership could take up House Resolution 17-111, the impeachment resolution that Deleon Guerrero and six other minority bloc members co-authored.
He said the leadership could vote on HR 17-111 as a whole. The other one would be to vote on each of the 16 articles based on the resolution.
Dela Cruz said if the leadership chooses to vote on the resolution as a whole, it would “skirt” each article which he said should be considered individually based on their merits.
“Now if the option by the leadership is to take up the House resolution as a whole, then I believe that due process is not really given to each and every article and that is almost shortchanging, if you will, the work that the committee has done,” he said.
Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan) said he is “disappointed” that the committee's work has been “thrown out the window” and that it is “unfair” to witnesses called in to testify and submit documents and other materials.
The eight-member Special Committee on Impeachment has four each from the House leadership and the minority bloc.
From the minority, the members are Reps. Joe Deleon Guerrero, Frank Dela Cruz, Tony Sablan, and Ray Tebuteb.
Committee members that are in the leadership are Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro and Reps. Fred Deleon Guerrero, Stanley Torres, and Joe Palacios.
All impeachment panel members are seeking re-election this November.
The House minority bloc is inviting the public to attend the House session.
“We do understand there's going to be a faction coming in. This is the leadership's faction. We want all others that feel that this impeachment process needs to move forward to the Senate, we again appeal for you to come and attend the session,” Dela Cruz said.