The Senate Committee on Rules and Procedures chaired by Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) said yesterday it will be looking into the charges and allegations against Sen. Juan M. Ayuyu (Ind-Rota), who was indicted with former Rota Municipal Council staffer Ryan James I. Manglona for violation of the Endangered Species Act when they allegedly tried to smuggle eight fruit bats from Rota to Saipan in October 2010.
Hofschneider's panel may recommend a course of action, if any, on Ayuyu.
Ayuyu, as a defendant, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The Senate said he continues to be a senator.
Ayuyu is a freshman senator heading the Senate Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications.
Ayuyu, 48, is the latest among CNMI lawmakers indicted or charged while in office.
Last year, a House Special Committee on Ethics was formed to review and make recommendations on issues involving Rep. Ray Palacios (Cov-Saipan) in connection with alleged “ice” use and trafficking. Palacios stepped down as Education Committee chair and did not seek re-election.
Ayuyu, in a phone interview yesterday, said he never intended to break any law and did not harm anyone but that he respects the judicial process.
“In my heart, I didn't do anything wrong. As a public servant, I felt I didn't harm anyone. I didn't do anything to advance any political interest. I believe justice will prevail. I hope they will hear my side [of the story]. I believe in our judicial process,” Ayuyu told Saipan Tribune.
The Senate, in a separate statement yesterday afternoon, said it is “saddened” by the news about Ayuyu.
“However, the Senate respects the judicial process and believes justice will be served in this matter. Sen. Ayuyu continues to be a member of the Senate and we must give him time to address this matter privately,” the Senate said.
Hofschneider said his Senate Committee on Rules and Procedures will convene to “discuss the charges and allegations in the indictment and recommend a course of action, if any is warranted in this case.”
“The Senate is bound by its rules of procedure and must comply with its provisions,” the Senate said, adding that it has “no further statement at this time.”
All nine CNMI senators, including Ayuyu, are members of the Senate Rules and Procedure Committee.
The U.S. Attorney's Office announced yesterday that a federal grand jury in the NMI District Court indicted Ayuyu and Manglona for violating the Endangered Species Act when they tried to smuggle eight fruit bats by hiding them underneath 40 lbs of lemons inside a brown cardboard box in a Freedom Air flight from Rota to Saipan about two years ago.
Manglona was also charged with obstruction of justice and providing false declarations to a grand jury.
If found guilty of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act violations, the defendants face a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and a maximum fine of $25,000 for each offense.
The alleged violations occurred when Ayuyu was on his ninth month as a senator since being sworn into office in January 2010.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for Guam and the NMI's announcement of the indictment came on the heels of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan's (Ind-MP) launching on Monday of a public petition urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate corruption in the CNMI after similar requests to U.S. Department of Justice officials in the region, among others, fell on deaf ears.
The petition is available at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/594/245/960/demand-federal-action-to-root-out-corruption-in-the-nmi/
As of 7pm last night, the petition had over 200 petitioners. It targets 1,000 signatures.
The Fitial administration described Sablan's request to Holder as “nothing more than a political ploy.” This comes days ahead of the Nov. 6 mid-term elections in the CNMI.