The CNMI Supreme Court placed under advisement yesterday the certified question as to who should replace former Rota senator Juan M. Ayuyu at the Senate.
After listening to the arguments of the parties’ counsels, Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro said they will try their best to issue a decision soon.
Aside from Castro, the other members of the appellate panel were justices pro tem Timothy B. Bellas and Herbert Soll.
The petitioners in the case are Sen. Pete P. Reyes and Rep. Janet U. Maratita, who were both present at the hearing. Attorney Robert T. Torres served as counsel for Reyes, while attorney Ramon K. Quichocho served as counsel for Maratita.
Senate legal counsel Jose Bermudez appeared for respondent Sen. Francisco Q. Cruz, who also watched the hearing. It was Crus who submitted the certified question to the high court.
Ayuyu recently stepped down as senator after pleading guilty to charges related to the smuggling of endangered fruit bats from Rota to Saipan. He will be sentenced on Dec. 20, 2013.
Cruz believes that Joey Quitugua should replace Ayuyu because Quitugua got the next highest vote among Rota senatorial candidates in the 2009 elections.
Maratita and Reyes, however, believe that former Senate president Paul A. Manglona should be appointed as he got the next highest vote among candidates in the 2012 senatorial elections.
The question raised is about Commonwealth Constitution Article II Section 9, which states: “A vacancy in the Legislature shall be filled by special election if one-half or more of the term remains. If less than one-half of the term remains, the governor shall fill the vacancy by appointing the unsuccessful candidate for the office in the last election who received the largest number of votes and is willing to serve or, if no candidate is available, a person qualified for the office from the district represented.”
At the hearing, Torres argued that the high court should read the constitutional provision, if ambiguous, to give effect to the most recent pronouncement of the will of the people in an election—the runner up in the most recent election.
Torres asserted that a gubernatorial appointment of a successor must be the unsuccessful candidate for the office in the last election (or most recent election) who received the largest number of votes.
In Reyes’ brief, Torres said the public interest is best served by appointing the losing candidate with the highest vote for a Senate office from the most recent election.
In contrast, he said, the appointment of a losing candidate with the highest votes from an earlier election in which the vacating senator was elected to office does not reflect the will of the people as expressed in the most recent election.
Torres said no important policy interest would be served in selecting a losing candidate in an election that has been superseded by a more recent one.
Torres said that appointing the losing candidate from the most recent Senate election, regardless that the vacating senator was elected from an earlier election, best reflects the intent of the framers, accomplishes the will of the people, and best serves the public interest.
Arguing for Sen. Cruz’s position, Bermudez said that if the petitioners are asked who will replace Hocog, the answer based on their position is “it depends.”
Bermudez said the vacancy should be replaced by the runner-up in that election.
Bermudez said that Ayuyu should be replaced by the runner-up in that same 2009 election.
“The will of the people in 2009 election is different from the will of the people in 2012 because of different candidates,” the Senate counsel pointed out.
For Maratita’s position, Quichocho said it is very clear that the one who should replace Ayuyu is the runner-up from the last election, 2012.
Quichocho said that nothing supports the respondent’s contention that the replacement should come from the 2009 election.