A milestone resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty failed to pass yesterday's tension-filled House of Representatives session that lasted until almost 8:30pm, securing only nine of 14 “yes” votes needed. But all is not lost as far as the movers of the impeachment are concerned.
The vote on the main motion to adopt the minority bloc's House Resolution 17-111, the impeachment measure, didn't happen until 8:20pm.
At 8:22pm, the impeachment resolution was defeated with 10 voting “no” and nine voting “yes,” with one absence.
The session lasted more than five hours starting at 3pm, an hour later than the original schedule of 2pm, consisting of almost three hours of debates among members and several calls for recess, and almost two hours of public comments from 32 individuals at the beginning of the session.
Pro- and anti-impeachment supporters crowded the House chamber, lobby, and hallways, spilling into the front of the legislative building. Most of those supporting the governor showed up in red shirts or blouses.
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero, in a brief interview after the session last night, said he's “disappointed” with the outcome and the “ultimate cover up” that the House leadership showed when it refused to grant a few days' extension to review the committee report based on evidence.
“All the while there's been a pattern of abuse of power and cover up. One cover up after another. The cover up involves law enforcement officers-the Department of Public Safety, whose officers pleaded the Fifth Amendment, the Office of the Attorney General, and tonight, the House leadership. They didn't want to wait for the committee report on each of the articles of impeachment and the evidence,” Deleon Guerrero told Saipan Tribune.
Deleon Guerrero is the main author of the impeachment resolution, along with six other minority bloc members.
Rep. Tony Sablan, also a co-author of the impeachment resolution, said “as consolation, the mere fact that the impeachment resolution has reached this stage should be an undeniable testimony and a clear warning for those who blatantly abuse and disregard the rule of law, that there are those in the community who are willing to stand up and defend the idea that we are a society of law, and that those who think or act otherwise might not be so lucky the next time.”
CNMI historian Sam McPhetres, a former faculty member at Northern Marianas College, said yesterday's session to vote on an impeachment “is a very historic moment, win or lose.”
This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution to impeach a governor was formally introduced, taken up by a special committee for a month, and voted on by the full House of Representatives.
Had the resolution passed the House, it wound then move to the Senate for trial.
The crowd at the House yesterday was among the largest to watch a House session, like during House inaugural sessions and when a governor delivers a State of the Commonwealth Address.
Dozens of uniformed police officers and those in plain clothes also provided security and order during the session.
However, at around 5pm, the speaker announced during the session that vehicle tires parked outside the legislative building were slashed.
“We do not tolerate this behavior,” he said.
The vehicle whose tires were slashed was one being driven by a private citizen supporting the impeachment resolution, Glen Hunter. The news spread fast through Facebook.
Later, an Office of the Public Auditor vehicle was reported as having a flat tire, but some said it could only be lack of air and was not intentionally slashed.
It was already past 5pm when House floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan) made a motion to adopt the impeachment resolution.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) made a subsidiary motion to “withdraw” from the full body HR 17-111 and “refer back” to the Special Committee on Impeachment “until Oct. 24, 2012.”
This was seconded by House minority bloc members.
However, the floor leader and other members argued at length on the House rules, particularly Section Rule 10 Section 7(c), regarding Dela Cruz's motion.
The argument lasted almost 45 minutes, with the speaker again calling for recess at 5:41pm.
At 6:09pm, the session resumed and Camacho went back to Dela Cruz's subsidiary motion, which the members and legal counsel agreed was proper.
Members voted on Dela Cruz's subsidiary motion, which was narrowly defeated by a vote of 10-9 with one absence.
How they voted
More than two hours later, the vote on the main motion to adopt HR 17-111 reflected the same results.
The 10 who voted “no” to the adoption of HR 17-111 were Reps. Ray Basa, George Camacho, Fred Deleon Guerrero, Sylvester Iguel, vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro, Joe Palacios, Ray Palacios, Teresita Santos, Stanley Torres, and Speaker Eli Cabrera.
The nine who voted “yes” to the impeachment resolution were Reps. Frank Dela Cruz, Joe Deleon Guerrero, Ralph Demapan, Janet Maratita, Tony Sablan, Ray Tebuteb, Edmund Villagomez, Ray Yumul, and Trenton Conner.
Rep. Froilan Tenorio was absent as he was off-island for medical reasons.
As of 9:17pm last night, an unofficial and unscientific poll on the Saipan Tribune website asking voters if how lawmakers will vote on the articles of impeachment against Fitial will influence their vote this November showed 70 who responded yes and 27 who said no.
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.
'Waste of time'
Dela Cruz said it is “very unfortunate” that the efforts put in by the committee and Legislative Bureau staffers would be put to waste because the speaker did not grant the committee that he himself created an extension to finish its committee report.
“Mr. Speaker, I would like to pose this question. Why have you stopped this committee? Is it campaign promises you made to supporters?” he asked Cabrera.
Dela Cruz also asked the speaker his plan on the Special Committee on Impeachment. He said “it appears” the speaker has “circumvented the process.”
“Do you want to dissolve this committee so that no report will be filed?” he asked.
The speaker responded, “You were right. We have wasted so much time.”
Cabrera said the 30 days given to the committee lapsed but not what he claimed was a “fishing expedition” by the minority bloc.
The speaker also said he had been monitoring the hearings, and said the witnesses have not convinced him that the governor did something wrong. He added that he will dissolve the impeachment committee.
Dela Cruz asked whether the sole-source $190.8-million power purchase agreement is right, and the crowd shouted “order” even before the speaker could react.
Rep. Ralph Demapan then offered a floor amendment to delete Article 1, which is an allegation of felony, related to the temporary release of a federal inmate in January 2010. He said he has 15 floor amendments.
The House went on a short recess again. When the session resumed, Demapan withdrew his floor amendment.
House members again debated some of the articles of impeachment.
2-hour public comments
The session didn't start until 3pm because the House leadership didn't finish its closed-door meeting in the speaker's conference room until shortly before 3pm.
A total of 32 members of the public testified in support or opposition to the impeachment resolution.
They included testimony from former lieutenant governor and representative Diego T. Benavente, Juan S. Reyes, Leila Staffler, Marja Lee Taitano, Ana D. Castro, Sixto Igisomar, Catalino Sanchez, LJ Castro, Susana Blas Deleon Guerrero, Isabela Capati, Pedro Deleon Guerrero Pangelinan, Ben Piteg, Marianne C. Teregeyo, Melvin Faisao, Malua Peter, Glen Hunter, Gregoria R. Fitial Omar, John Oliver Gonzales, Esther Fleming, Ambrosio Ogumoro, Pedro Arriola, Margarita Olopai Taitano, Pedro R. Deleon Guerrero, Ramona Rebuenog, Joaquina T. Mendiola, Tom Tebuteb, Herman Sablan, Diana Esplin, Rich Puhalla, Crispin M. Sablan, and Liana Hofschneider. Another man spoke without identifying himself.
Inside the House gallery and in the lobby, some members of the crowd gave side comments as pro-impeachment members of the community testified before the House.
For example, when concerned citizen Leila Staffler ended her statement that she's from Precinct 5, an anti-impeachment supporter said, “Who cares?” After concerned citizen Rich Puhalla testified in support of the impeachment resolution, an anti-impeachment supporter said, “Go home.”
Staffler, in an interview, said she went to Capital Hill to watch the “government in action and to support the impeachment process.”
She said she wants to see that the process is met with fidelity “and that people are held accountable for breaking the laws.”
Tina I. Kukkun, of Koblerville, said there are “better things to do” than impeach the governor and that the allegations “should be thrown out.”
Barbara Rasiang, of Dandan, said she and other family members-about 10 of them-went to Capital Hill to show their support for the governor.
“He's doing his job, he should not be impeached,” Rasiang told Saipan Tribune moments after the House went into session. She said she learned of the Wednesday vote on the impeachment resolution on Sunday.
Frank B. Camacho, who claimed to be a “proud” supporter of the governor and the Republican Party, said the lawmakers who support impeaching the governor “have nothing better to do.”
The critical impeachment vote came days ahead of the Nov. 6 mid-term elections. The governor heads the local Republican Party.