With a resolution to impeach Gov. Benigno R. Fitial failing to pass the House of Representatives on Oct. 17, voters and other community members took to the street to take a strong stand against corruption in a rally at the Microl intersection in San Jose yesterday.
Protesters held up placards and banners that read “Stand up against corruption,” “End corruption,” “Say no to corruption,” Voters against corruption,” “Impeach Fitial,” “I plead Fifth Amendment. I'm scared,” and “Honk to prevent abuse of power.”
JP Attao, a Kagman resident, said that yesterday's anti-corruption rally “is just the tip of the iceberg for the coming election,” holding up a placard that reads, “Stop corruption on Nov. 6.”
The rally came days after the defeat of the historic impeachment resolution and two weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
“Corruption knows no race. It affects everyone in the CNMI-Chamorro, Refaluwasch and others. If the majority of the House of Representatives didn't want to see evidence of corruption, the public would be the one to see them and decide what to do with them,” Attao told Saipan Tribune.
Motorists honked their horns as they passed by the rally that started at 10am and ended at 12:30pm.
Among the issues that ralliers were upset about included a sole-source $190.8 million power purchase agreement, a write-off of some $24 million in taxes, the use of law enforcement officers and government resources to break the law, and a no-bid $392,406 ARRA management contract award.
Sylvan Rangamar, a retired police officer, said he still has lots of friends at the Department of Public Safety “and I know how they feel. They are being silenced in there.”
“I've done escorts for dignitaries, for VIPs when I was a police officer but I never escorted a felon or anyone trying to flee when there's a penal summons being served. That's not right. I won't vote for the 'Ben 10'. You can bet on it,” Rangamar said, referring to the 10 House members who voted “no” to the impeachment resolution.
Armed law enforcement officers escorted former attorney general Edward Buckingham on his way out of the CNMI in August. It is alleged that they were there to shield him from being served a penal summons in connection with criminal charges against him.
Rangamar, who worked at DPS for 23 years, carried a placard that read, “A retired cop. And I, too, am not afraid of corrupt cops.”
Analee Villagomez, of As Perdido, said she believes in “good leadership,” which she said the current governor does not have. “The governor is corrupt. $190 million should instead go to renewable energy,” she added.
Jeff Race, an athlete, said “This is the most corrupt administration in CNMI history, starting from the lieutenant governor [Tim Villagomez] who is in prison, the governor's driver is in prison, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.”
“There's a lot [of corruption], and I've had intimidation directed toward my family and myself,” he said.
Race said he joined the rally “because I think we need to eliminate the fear that is being felt by people who are being intimated by our government, and the corruption that we are seeing in so many levels. We need to stop it.”
He said everybody in the CNMI needs to know the candidates who support corruption “and I'd be very surprised if any of those people make it back to the office because the overwhelming majority of people firmly believe that the governor deserves to be impeached.”
Glen Hunter, one of the rally organizers, said he is happy with the crowd and the number of passing motorists that honked their horns in support of their cause.
“Ten people decided to turn a blind eye on corruption. And that just goes to show how deep-rooted corruption is. It's so deep that 10 people that make laws didn't care about reviewing whether those laws were broken or not by the highest elected officer of the land, so that's a testament to how bad things are. The pleading of the Fifth [by] law enforcement officers, the layers and layers and layers of corruption are just building up that people cannot take it anymore,” he said.
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero, the main author of the impeachment resolution that the Fitial-aligned House leadership voted down on Oct. 17, said the motorists honking their horns reveal the sentiment of the many people that are against corruption.
Deleon Guerrero was among the lawmakers that joined the rally yesterday, along with Reps. Tony Sablan, Janet Maratita, Ray Tebuteb, and Ray Yumul.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP), who also joined the rally, said he was there as a citizen who opposes corruption at any level of the government.
“I oppose the secret $190-million power purchase agreement that will cost us over $2 billion over the life of the agreement. I oppose the writing off of some $24 million of taxes owed by Tinian Dynasty. When a common citizen owes taxes, they cannot even get their rebates for prior years. But the government writes off a huge tax liability at a time when our people need so much help for public health, public safety, for education.
“I oppose the use of armed, uniformed officers to assist a former attorney general escape from the arm of the laws of the Northern Mariana Islands. This is wrong and it also gives our many law-abiding, hardworking men and women in blue a bad name,” Sablan said.
He said people need to “take back” the islands.
“We need to get out of secret, backroom deals. We need to get out of the darkness and into the light. We need to stop corruption at every level,” he added.
The Fitial administration has yet to respond to requests for comment as of last night.
John Paul Aglubat, 17, said he joined the rally because he believes it's about time people stand up against corruption.
Roger Hernandez said he and his family and friends would not vote for those who did not support a resolution to impeach the governor.
Joe Carlos, 20, from Palau, said he was at the rally because he believes corruption should be stopped.
Vince Cabrera, of Chalan Piao, said, “The governor needs to step down because it's pointless for the 18th Legislature to come in and work with him when he has closed-door agreements, he has no regard for the law, and most importantly, no regard to the CNMI people.”
“I made myself clear to even my family that there's no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't support the 'Ben 10.' I did not coin the word 'politricks' for nothing,” he added.