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Monday, April 21, 2014

IN ARREST OF SENATOR’S COP SON
Senate inquires but no formal probe
Torres names floor leader Yumul as acting president, not VP Hocog

Acting Senate president Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan) confirmed yesterday that one of the two vehicles a police officer allegedly used to sell methamphetamine or “ice” is leased to Senate vice president Victor Hocog’s (R-Rota) office using government funds. Hocog is the father of the arrested police officer. While the Senate inquired about the status of the leased vehicle and whether Hocog was aware the vehicle was used for alleged drug-related activities, there is no formal Senate panel investigation at this time.

“As acting president, it doesn’t appear the senator committed any unethical behavior with respect to the vehicle use that warrants an investigation by a special committee at this point, unless a majority of the members of the Senate feel otherwise,” Yumul told Saipan Tribune in an interview.

Yumul said that based on their initial inquiries and available information, the senator was not in the vehicle when it was used to allegedly sell “ice.” 

He said the senator also “didn’t seem to be aware the vehicle was used for allegedly selling ‘ice’.”

But while the Senate is not conducting a formal ethical probe at this time, Yumul acknowledged that the available facts surrounding the arrest of a senator’s police officer son raises questions about accountability, specifically government-paid vehicle leases for elected officials.

Some lawmakers and other officials lease vehicles using government funds. 

It is not clear if lawmakers’ family members are allowed to use these vehicles for non-public purpose or to gain personal benefits.

“This could be one question for the Office of the Public Auditor to answer,” another lawmaker said.

Yumul said the vehicle is leased by Hocog’s office from Joeten Motors. The vehicle is currently “impounded” because of ongoing investigation. However, because DPS does not have a safe storage, the vehicle is being placed at a Joeten Motors’ facility, Yumul said. The acting Senate president added that Joeten Motors gave a courtesy car to Hocog’s office while the originally leased vehicle is still part of an investigation.

Other lawmakers didn’t want to comment on record, saying they are either friends with Sen. Hocog or they do not want to interfere in any ongoing investigation, whether by the police or the Office of the Attorney General.

They pointed out that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that they also feel sorry for their colleague and his family.

Hocog, chairman of the Senate Rules and Procedures Committee, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

If it is proven in court that Hocog’s police officer son used a government-paid leased vehicle for selling “ice,” it won’t be the first time in CNMI government history. Former governor Benigno R. Fitial’s former driver also used the governor’s vehicle to buy and distribute “ice.” 

Other lawmakers said the Department of Public Safety should also be called in for an oversight hearing to determine the number of individuals in the police force with past criminal records.

This stems from DPS Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero’s admission that DPS hired Police Officer 1 Victor Val B. Hocog, the Senate vice president’s son, among others also with prior criminal convictions because he came out as a “lesser evil.” 
 
Mandatory drug tests

The arrest of Police Officer 1 Hocog came some two weeks after DPS Commissioner Deleon Guerrero, along with Customs Director Joe Mafnas, testified before the Senate on a House bill requiring mandatory drug testing among law enforcement personnel.

In that Senate session, the DPS commissioner urged the senators to pass the much-needed House bill to help rid DPS and other law enforcement agencies of individuals using illegal drugs. Last week, the DPS commissioner declared a DPS war against “ice” use.

Yumul, chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government and Law, said his committee is now reviewing the House bill.

He said among other things, the committee would recommend ensuring there is a provision for funding the mandatory drug testing as well as the inclusion of all other law enforcement agencies besides DPS and Customs.

“We all agree we want to pass this mandatory drug testing bill but we need to ensure funding and inclusion of all law enforcement personnel,” he added.

Yumul said the JGL Committee has also sought guidance and comments from the Civil Service Commission. He said the Office of the Attorney General will also be sought for comment.
 
Senate ‘presidency’

Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), meanwhile, delegated floor leader Yumul as acting Senate president while he is off island. Hocog, as vice president, is supposed to be the acting president when the president is out of the CNMI, unless Hocog is also outside the Commonwealth.

Yumul said he did not know as of yesterday Hocog’s whereabouts.

Torres, in his Jan. 29 memo to the Senate, said he will be out of the CNMI from Jan. 29 through Feb. 4.

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