A day after a resolution impeaching him for 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty was defeated in the House of Representatives, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial called on lawmakers yesterday to “move on” even as another impeachment resolution may be introduced as early as January 2013, depending on the results of the Nov. 6 mid-term elections.
Fitial said the issue of impeachment “achieved nothing more than to create an unnecessary division amongst our people and a hindrance in our ability as elected leaders to work together.”
“Now that this has been addressed and decided, I humbly ask you and members of the Legislature to put our differences behind us so that we may all come together in the spirit of cooperation for the sake of our people,” Fitial told Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) and House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan).
Manglona said he could only hope that Fitial is sincere in trying to turn the economy around and fix the ailing economy, the hospital, and the high utility rates, among other things.
“More actions rather than more calls for meetings are needed. One of the major actions he could do is invalidate the $190.8-million power purchase agreement. That's a major obstacle to the CNMI's goal of moving forward with renewable energy and lowering CUC [Commonwealth Utilities Corp.] utility rates,” Manglona told Saipan Tribune.
The Senate president said Fitial “has to realize that what he did was wrong and illegal because the law requires a contract such as this to be sanctioned by the Public Utilities Commission and the sole-source contract requires the certification of the justification.”
Not over yet
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), main author of the impeachment measure, said it will be up to voters to decide on Nov. 6 whether Wednesday night's vote on House Resolution 17-111 is the end of the process.
It has been whispered about that once the so-called independent Republicans and members of the current House minority bloc, Covenant Party candidates, and other independents gain majority in the 18th Legislature, they will again introduce a resolution impeaching the governor.
Press secretary Angel Demapan said yesterday “it's just sad that way ahead of the election, these proponents are already planning to divide our community once again.”
“Right now, the governor's focus is on trying to get the elected leaders to work together for the betterment of the people. They appear to have all the answers, but never want to share what those solutions are. It's time to just put it all behind and give the people the service they deserve,” he said.
Glen Hunter, a concerned citizen and one of the organizers of an Oct. 21 rally against corruption, said it's his “honest assessment that the impeachment vote [on Wednesday] night was a necessary step toward an impeachment in January.”
“I was fully aware that certain members of the Legislature were not going to be swayed and that the resolution would never garner the numbers in this House. However, it was paramount that the public got to see the vote of all sitting representatives prior to Nov. 6. It was, as the governor put it, political suicide, for them to cast a 'no' vote,” he said.
Hunter said “no longer can any of them walk the line between what is right and what is wrong. They voted [Wednesday] night on that very issue. Those who voted 'no' clearly showed the entire CNMI that they were fully willing to turn a blind eye to blatant documented proof of corruption, abuse of power, and neglect of duty by the governor. It was a sad day for those 10 representatives but a great day for the CNMI.”
Human rights activist Wendy Doromal said, “No honest legislator could review the evidence of the hearings, listen to the testimonies, and conclude that the governor should not be impeached.”
“Clearly, those who vote no to impeachment are loyal to Fitial rather than to the people that they were elected to serve. Those who vote no will likely receive a no vote for their re-election in November,” the former Rota teacher added.
House floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan), one of those who voted “no” to the impeachment resolution, said the House leadership “will continue to push to revive and sustain the Retirement Fund and seek out revenue to help our economy.”
Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan), who also voted against the impeachment, said all the things that the pro-impeachment lawmakers raised “could have been addressed had they worked with the governor and the leadership.”
“Now they are blaming one person, the governor, for all the problems like the hospital, the Retirement Fund. I would like to put the blame on all of us lawmakers because we all didn't work together... We all failed. Basically Rep. Froilan Tenorio is right when he said a do-nothing Legislature. But it's not too late to do something starting with working together,” Palacios said.
Deleon Guerrero said had the House leadership allowed evidence on each of the articles to be presented to each of the members, they would find that at least 15 of 16 allegations rise to the level of impeachment.
The Special Committee on Impeachment asked House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) for at least up to today to complete its report and recommendations but the leadership called for a session last Wednesday to vote on it, triggering a lengthy and tension-filled session that lasted up to about 8:30pm.
Deleon Guerrero cited as an example the evidence gathered on the sole-source, $190.8-million power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC.
“Everything that we found shows that it will cost us more than what we're paying now, and it's going to obligate us for the next 25 years,” he said.
Minority bloc members said none of the technical and legal experts called in during the impeachment hearings testified in favor of the 25-year diesel power generation deal.
The impeachment movers also said there was no way around an illegal release of a federal inmate in the wee hours of the morning to give the governor a private massage at his residence in 2010, along with allowing law enforcement officers to prevent the serving of a penal summons to former attorney general, among other things.
Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), one of those who voted in favor of impeachment, cautioned his colleagues on Wednesday night not to take their constitutional duty lightly.
“Where public trust is violated, where justice is threatened, where compelling public interests are undermined, any elected official in any branch must be made accountable for his/her actions or inactions for that matter,” he said.
The nine House members who voted in favor of the impeachment resolution were Reps. Joe Deleon Guerrero, Frank Dela Cruz, Ray Tebuteb, Ray Yumul, Tony Sablan, Janet Maratita, Trenton Conner, Ralph Demapan, and Edmund Villagomez.
Ten members of the House leadership voted “no” to the impeachment, while Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan) was off island on medical leave.
At least 14 yes votes were needed to move the impeachment process to the Senate.
This is the first time in CNMI history that a resolution to impeach a governor was introduced and taken up by a special committee and voted on by the full House.
'Another leadership meeting'
Fitial, in a two-page letter to the Legislature yesterday, called for another full leadership meeting with House and Senate members. This time, he asked for lawmakers' recommendation on the time and place to hold the meeting.
“I believe a full leadership meeting is a meaningful forum for all of us to initiate our efforts,” he said.
The two-term governor said despite the personal differences that he and lawmakers may have, “it is our responsibility to rebuild and reunite our torn community.”
The House floor leader said he will be attending the meeting.
Last Tuesday, only eight members of the House leadership showed up at a scheduled leadership meeting with Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos. None from the Senate participated.
Manglona reiterated that if the governor is serious about moving the CNMI forward, he would invalidate the $190.8-million power purchase agreement by now.
Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Ray Yumul (R-Saipan) and the Senate took the PPA matter to court, which granted a temporary restraining order on the project.
Manglona said he thought the CNMI government has already learned from the CUC Power Plant 4 contract.
“I thought we learned our lessons from that Power Plant 4, wherein we were paying some $400,000 a month even if we didn't buy a single kilowatt hour of power from that power plant. Here we go again. And at the impeachment hearings, nobody said the power purchase agreement is a good deal for the CNMI,” the Senate president said.
Manglona said he also asked the Senate Committee on Health chaired by Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) to call in Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. officials and work on the issues plaguing the hospital.
“It seems the governor and CHC don't have an idea where we're going with the hospital,” he said.
He reiterated that it's unfortunate that Senate legislative initiatives to help the NMI Retirement Fund were not placed on the Nov. 6 ballot because of the House leadership.
As for revenue-generating measures, Manglona said it seems Fitial's plan to legalize casinos on Saipan is again at the forefront.
“The governor has three plans. First, casino. Second, casino. And the third one, casinos. If he wants to talk about casinos, at this point, he should focus on the Tinian casino industry and the Rota casino industry,” Manglona added.
As of yesterday, it's not known yet whether the House and Senate will still hold sessions before the Nov. 6 midterm elections.