Today marks the first anniversary of the prefiling of the first impeachment resolution in CNMI history, and those who took part in it or witnessed the constitutional process in action reflect on the resulting changes that they hope will be sustained for generations to come.
“It was something we needed to do as people lost their trust and confidence in the governor and his administration,” Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan), one of the seven authors of the original impeachment resolution, told Saipan Tribune yesterday.
While the CNMI’s first impeachment resolution was defeated by former governor Benigno R. Fitial’s allies in the 17th House of Representatives, that paved the way for voters to wipe out most of the pro-Fitial candidates in the 2012 elections. It allowed pro-impeachment candidates to dominate that election, making it easier for them to introduce and pass a second impeachment resolution against Fitial.
The rest was history.
Fitial became the first governor to step down in the CNMI and in any U.S. territory, days after the House approved the impeachment. He resigned days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate.
It was on Aug. 27, 2012, when seven members of the 17th House of Representatives’ minority bloc led by Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), now speaker, prefiled House Resolution 17-111.
That historic initiative listed 16 articles of impeachment against Fitial, including five acts of corruption, seven acts of neglect of duty, and four commissions of felonies.
Sablan said many in the community felt government corruption was rampant and unprecedented in CNMI history.
“The House minority believed it was something that needed to be done to put a stop to everything that was going on and to do that, the governor had to be removed because he was at the center of what’s going on. No matter what we do, if he remained in control, all those things will continue,” he said.
The defeat of that first impeachment resolution only further galvanized people who were already fed up with corruption and lack of transparency in government.
“We knew what the mandate of the people was and the results of the election justified the term,” he said.
When the new members of the 18th Legislature came together, including new ones and returning lawmakers who pushed for or supported impeachment, Sablan said each was reminded of their role and responsibility.
“That is, to not lose sight of why we’re here and for who. We are here for the people. The main problem during the previous administration was that officials lost sight of their purpose to protect and advance the interest of the people, and instead protected the interest of only a few,” Sablan said.
He said officials always have to be held accountable for their actions.
“And we have to move forward without forgetting that we’re here for the people,” he added.
Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan), also among the seven authors of the original impeachment resolution, said the events of the past reminded everyone of the system of “checks and balances” in government.
“It’s important that people understand this system of checks and balances, that they can participate in the process,” Tebuteb said.
Besides Deleon Guerrero, Sablan, and Tebuteb, the four other House members who prefiled the original impeachment resolution were Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan), now vice speaker; former representative and now senator Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan); and Reps. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan) and Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian).
Ed Propst, one of the strongest advocates for a corruption-free and transparent CNMI government, said yesterday that “the CNMI still has a lot of room for improvement, but things are getting better.”
He said the last election proved that the people of the CNMI overwhelmingly supported the impeachment of the former governor, “and that they were sick and tired of corrupt scams that were created to enrich a few con men while bankrupting the rest of us.”
“What I am learning is that politics really does make strange bedfellows, and today’s ally could be tomorrow’s enemy. But as long as you stick to your core values and principles and embrace transparency, accountability, and fairness, then you can never go wrong. I believe our voters will continue to hold our leaders accountable, and if our leaders mess up, then they will simply be voted out of office,” Propst said.
Fitial’s resignation on Feb. 20, 2013, resulted in then lieutenant governor Eloy S. Inos ascending to power.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comment yesterday, said, “The Inos administration has not and will not dwell on the impeachment issue that has come and gone.”
“The right thing to do for the people is for this administration to carry out its duties and responsibilities. And that is the focus of the governor and lieutenant governor. What we have today is an administration that works day in and day out in pursuit of a better future—one that is exerting all its efforts on addressing the economy, Retirement Fund, health care, education and utilities,” he said.