Newly appointed Senate Rules and Procedures Committee chair Victor Hocog (R-Rota) is recommending to the panel and the Senate the suspension of the salary and other benefits of Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota), who has been in jail for three months now on charges of attempted smuggling of endangered fruit bats. Community members have also questioned the Senate's lack of action since December whether to suspend or discipline Ayuyu.
“My own idea is recommend suspending the salary and other benefits of Senator Ayuyu. He can't attend the sessions and perform his functions because he's in jail. It's a difficult situation but we also have to be mindful of our responsibilities as senators and the concerns of the community,” Hocog told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
The committee will meet next week to decide on the matter as a panel, and forward a recommendation to the full Senate.
“We should have an answer next week,” Hocog added.
Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) only recently finalized the chairmanship of committees, assigning to Hocog the Rules and Procedures Committee that Ayuyu used to chair.
Ayuyu continues to receive his senator's salary, subsistence allowance, and staff and office expenses despite being in jail since Dec. 17, 2012.
A Jan. 11, 2013, Office of the Attorney General opinion stated that the Department of Finance should continue to pay Ayuyu's salary, subsistence allowance, and staff and office expenses unless the Senate suspends or disciplines him.
Hocog said the series of changes in the Senate, including the ascension of former president Jude U. Hofschneider to the lieutenant governor post, a vacancy, reorganization, and the appointment of a new member from Tinian has delayed action on the Ayuyu matter.
Hofschneider, when he was still Senate president, tasked the Rules and Procedures Committee that was headed by then vice president Torres to review and come up with recommendations on the Ayuyu matter. When Hofschneider became lieutenant governor and Torres became president, the latter had to relinquish any chairmanship and passed the baton to Hocog.
Ayuyu's jury trial begins on April 1.
Hocog said he has already talked to Ayuyu's wife and daughter about his recommendation.
“I don't want them to be caught unaware of what's happening,” he said. “We are also taking necessary steps to protect the interest of the general public. Many are asking why the Senate has not done anything yet, it's because of the recent organizational changes that happened; now we're addressing this matter.”
Absent any action from the Senate, Finance should continue to pay Ayuyu's salary, subsistence, staff and office expenses in the same manner it did before Ayuyu's incarceration, the OAG said.
As a lawmaker, Ayuyu receives an annual salary of $39,300, $76,000 in annual discretionary funds that lawmakers use to hire staff and for office operations, and a $4,200 monthly subsistence allowance.
Other senators including Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) earlier said in her “personal opinion,” the Senate should “wait for a court decision on his case before deciding on disciplining him such as expulsion.”
Last year, after an almost two-month review, the Senate Committee on Rules and Procedures that Hofschneider chaired recommended that senators refrain from taking any action against Ayuyu until after the U.S. District Court for the NMI decides on his indictment related to allegations that Ayuyu and another individual tried to smuggle eight fruit bats from Rota to Saipan in October 2010.
That recommendation, however, was made prior to Ayuyu's detention. Ayuyu, 48, has been detained since Dec. 17, pending his trial on new charges of obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, and attempting to destroy evidence related to his first case.
Ayuyu missed the inaugural session of the 18th Legislature and couldn't be given a committee chairmanship as he remains in detention.