Within hours of the 18th House of Representatives' inaugural session and to make good on a promise to fulfill a “public mandate,” newly installed House Speaker Joseph P. Deleon (IR-Saipan) and 14 other leadership members pre-filed yesterday afternoon a new resolution impeaching Gov. Benigno R. Fitial for 18 allegations of corruption, neglect, and commission of a felony. This is more than the 16 articles of impeachment listed in the original resolution that the governor-aligned House leadership easily defeated in the previous Legislature.
The 15 sponsors of the resolution are more than enough number of votes to impeach Fitial, the CNMI's seventh governor.
Only at least 14 “yes” votes are needed in the 20-member House to impeach the governor, and at least six “yes” votes to convict him in the nine-member Senate.
The governor, according to press secretary Angel Demapan, “recognizes that he is up against a supermajority in the House.”
“He [is] also aware that they [are] fixated on disposing of this item on their agenda. The number of cosponsors pretty much indicates that the process will move up to the Senate. Cognizant of this, it's only fair that the governor be given the opportunity to prepare for his defense. It will be at that appropriate time and forum that he will respond to the articles lodged against him,” Demapan told Saipan Tribune.
In his 11-minute speech, Deleon Guerrero dedicated yesterday's inaugural session to the public.
“After the November election, the term 'public mandate' was often used to describe the public's overwhelming support for impeachment. Their message was that corruption, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and the lack of transparency and accountability will not be tolerated,” said Deleon Guerrero, a minority leader in the previous House.
He said elected officials should realize and understand that public trust is a sacred trust.
“Once lost, it is literally impossible to regain. And no amount of apologies or promises for change can restore this trust or our credibility,” he said, referring to Fitial's apologies and promises for change during the last session of the 17th House last week.
Deleon Guerrero spoke in the vernacular to elaborate on the term “public mandate.” In an interview after the session, Deleon Guerrero said the translation of what he said was, “We will continue and we will finish what we started, which is the impeachment. The public gave us this mandate and we need to address that public mandate.”
True to their word, Deleon Guerrero and 14 other members of the House leadership signed off on a 26-page impeachment resolution for pre-filing.
Only one of the 16-member House leadership didn't sign off on the resolution, Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan).
But Villagomez pointed out in an interview that it was because he has yet to read the impeachment resolution. He voted “yes” to the impeachment resolution last year.
“I just said in my speech that I will continue to do the right thing. And I won't sign something I haven't had the chance to read first,” he told Saipan Tribune.
House Resolution 18-2 could be formally introduced as early as Friday if the speaker calls for a session that day.
Deleon Guerrero said he will appoint a Special Committee on Impeachment as soon as the impeachment resolution is introduced.
Newly-installed Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan) created a buzz in his speech when he said he's committed to working with all stakeholders such as the Senate, the Judiciary “and more importantly, the new administration.”
The crowd startled at Dela Cruz's use of the phrase “new administration.” In an interview with reporters later, Dela Cruz said he was referring to an “Inos administration.”
If and when Fitial is impeached and convicted, Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos will become the governor, according to the lines of succession.
Dela Cruz said the mandate of the people is “too great to be complacent.”
Besides the speaker and vice speaker, the other sponsors of the impeachment resolution are: floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), Reps. Antonio Agulto (IR-Saipan), Anthony Benavente (IR-Saipan), Roman Benavente (IR-Saipan), Trenton Conner (R-Tinian), Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), Christopher Deleon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), Janet Maratita (IR-Saipan), Antonio Sablan (IR-Saipan), John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan), Mariano Taitano (IR-Saipan), Ramon Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), and Ralph Yumul (IR-Saipan).
The names of the four members of the minority bloc aligned with the governor were listed on the resolution but they are expected not to sign off on it. They are minority leader George Camacho (R-Saipan), Reps. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota), and Richard Seman (R-Saipan). Fitial is president of the Republican Party.
The previously introduced yet defeated impeachment resolution listed 16 articles. Fifteen of them are retained in the new resolution while the one related to non-remittance of employer contribution to the NMI Retirement Fund was removed.
The new resolution then added three allegations of neglect of duty related to the governor's failure to nominate for Senate consideration a commissioner for the Department of Public Safety, a secretary for the Department of Public Lands, and a secretary for the Department of Public Works.
Of the 18 allegations in H.R. 18-2, nine are for neglect, five for corruption, and four for commission of a felony.
Newly installed Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and other senators declined to comment on the pre-filed resolution, citing the need to be fair and impartial about the issue.
Fitial is the first CNMI governor to be the subject of a pre-filed and/or introduced impeachment resolution.
The governor attended yesterday's inaugural session of the Senate, while Inos was at the House inaugural session. The two sessions were held simultaneously.
Fitial has repeatedly told the media that removing him from office won't solve the critical issues facing the CNMI.
The 26-page resolution's impeachable offenses were in connection with Fitial's use of a federal inmate temporarily taken out of prison to give him a massage at his house during the wee hours in January 2010, failure to nominate a Supreme Court chief justice and members of the Public Utilities Commission, and failure to remit full contributions to the NMI Retirement Fund since 2006.
The resolution also included the award of an almost $400,000 sole-source ARRA management contract to a former Cabinet official within days of resignation in 2010, and failure to remove a former attorney general after it became clear that the AG used public funds and other resources for a political campaign or gathering.
The rest involved ordering or conspiring to use armed police and ports police officers to shield the former AG from being served a penal summons in connection with criminal charges filed against him, and the signing of a 25-year, $190.8-million power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC. The new attorney general, Joey Patrick San Nicolas, has already declared the PPA void and unenforceable.