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Friday, April 25, 2014

Senator’s conviction puts the Constitution to the test

Another CNMI senator was convicted while in office in 2013, this time over smuggling endangered fruit bats from Rota to Saipan. But the story did not end with Juan M. Ayuyu’s conviction or his still pending sentencing. It was just the beginning of a saga that reached the CNMI Supreme Court to determine who is going to fill his vacated Senate seat.

Ayuyu, 48, resigned as a member of the 18th Senate effective Oct. 1, 2013, pending his court sentencing. He faces 33 to 41 months in prison, which would be completed long after his supposed term as a senator ends in January 2015.

In the end, a Supreme Court ruling on a certified question paved the way for the unsuccessful candidate in the 2012 elections—and not in the 2009 polls—to be appointed to serve the remainder of Ayuyu’s term.

Thus, former Senate president Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) returned to the CNMI Senate which, for quite some time, has not had a complete nine members.

“It is great to be part of the constitutional process and I, for one, would like to note for the record that the NMI constitutional system of government with written rules of law to fill vacancies and an independent Judiciary to interpret and define ambiguous terms is very much alive and well in the Commonwealth today,” Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider said when he, as acting governor, formally appointed Manglona on the heels of the court ruling.

The same court decision also prompted the Inos administration to clarify that Sen. Joaquin Borja’s (Ind-Tinian) appointment was based on the results of the 2012 race rather than on the 2009 elections. Borja was appointed to serve the remainder of former Senate president and now Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider’s term.

The CNMI Supreme Court said the term “last election” in Article 2, Section 9 of the CNMI Constitution refers to the most recent expression of the electorate.

The high court addressed the certified question of who the governor must appoint following a vacancy in the Senate with less than half a term remaining because of Ayuyu’s resignation as Rota senator.

This came months after Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, in a March 15, 2013, legal opinion, said if Ayuyu is convicted and a vacancy in the Senate exists, that vacancy will be filled by Joey Anthony Quitugua. The AG later welcomed the court ruling.

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