The Senate formally elected a new set of officers led by Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Vice President Victor Hocog (R-Rota), and floor leader Ray Yumul (IR-Saipan) during a reorganizational session on Friday. That was two days after former president Jude U. Hofschneider became lieutenant governor and former lieutenant governor Eloy S. Inos became governor under a rule of succession when Benigno R. Fitial stepped down as governor.
Inos, at the same time, said he will fill the vacancy in the Senate left by Hofschneider as a senator from Tinian “within 30 days” as required.
Torres, the former vice president, said the Senate will work hard to help address the CNMI's issues. Hocog, the former floor leader, said he would like to provide more funding to healthcare.
Yumul, for his part, said he will be focusing mainly on prolonging the lifespan of the NMI Retirement Fund along with other issues such as boosting the economy and improving healthcare.
Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) remains the legislative secretary.
Chairmanships of certain committees also changed. Sen. Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan) said he now heads the Rules and Procedures Committee that Torres previously held. Reyes said he now also heads the Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications that Hocog previously chaired.
The new governor said he has asked the Office of the Attorney General to review the constitutional provision relating to vacancies in the Senate.
“It's limited to Tinian so I've asked the Office of the Attorney General to take a look at the requirement filling that position. It was never problematic in the case of the House because the House always terminates at a given point and there's no overlapping [of terms]. This is the first time that we will have a situation [in the Senate] wherein the language can be viewed as ambiguous because it says [appointment of next top vote getter] from the last election,” Inos said.
In the last two elections, Joaquin Borja was the second highest vote getter among senatorial candidates on Tinian.
If Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) is convicted of endangered fruit bat smuggling and obstruction of justice, this will create another vacancy in the Senate. Ayuyu was supposed to have been the floor leader, but his incarceration for obstruction of justice paved the way for Hocog and later Yumul, to take his place.
Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Robert Guerrero said the Senate may have to submit a certified question to the court to resolve the issue should a Rota senatorial seat becomes vacant.
The certified question would resolve the issue of whether the governor should appoint the next vote getter among Rota senatorial candidates in the 2010 or 2012 elections.
Torres reiterated that the Senate “will cross the bridge when we get there.”
Besides senators' families, friends and supporters, the Senate organization session also saw the attendance of Inos, Hofschneider, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), and other House members and government officials.