House speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan) and six other members prefiled yesterday a resolution asking Gov. Eloy S. Inos to “take the necessary actions for the immediate extradition of former governor Benigno R. Fitial” to face criminal charges against him related to corruption. The resolution will be acted on next week.
“The principle that no one is above the law because justice is blind mandates that Fitial should have his day in court and that Gov. Eloy S. Inos should not stand idle nor do nothing while Fitial attempts to remain above the law,” the four-page House Resolution 18-56 partly states.
Inos is currently in Washington, D.C. for a series of meetings.
The resolution requesting Fitial’s extradition was prefiled five days after Fitial’s attorney general Edward Buckingham was convicted and sentenced on similar charges.
Only Fitial remains unserved with the arrest warrant in connection with the alleged conspiracy case.
Dela Cruz said the resolution will be taken up during the next session next week.
Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan), one of the resolution’s cosponsors, said lawmakers need to think of “why they should support the resolution” rather than “why they should not support it,” referring to charges against Fitial related to misconduct, corruption, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and obstruction of justice, among other things.
Besides Dela Cruz and Tebuteb, the other cosponsors of the extradition resolution are Reps. Mario Taitano (Ind-Saipan), Antonio Benavente (Ind-Saipan), Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan), John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan), and Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan).
The seven were among the 16 of 20 lawmakers who voted “yes to impeach Fitial on 18 charges of corruption, felony, and neglect of duty. Fitial resigned on Feb. 20, 2013, days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate.
But the resolution is still on its way to be adopted, based on some members’ statement yesterday.
Rep. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian), for example, also a co-sponsor of the impeachment resolutions in 2012 and 2013, said he was off-island when the extradition resolution was prefiled. He said he supports the resolution’s intent.
Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan) said she will vote “yes” to the extradition request resolution.
Rep. Larry Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), who voted “yes” to the 2013 impeachment of Fitial, said yesterday that Fitial, like anyone charged, should be able to defend themselves in court.
“He’s charged. He should face the charges against him, just like anybody else. Officials are not immune,” Deleon Guerrero said, adding that he will vote “yes” to the resolution.
Rep. Roman Benavente (Ind-Saipan), meanwhile, said he is cautious about the matter, reiterating that it is a “sensitive issue.” He said he has yet to see the resolution. Rep. Antonio Agulto (Ind-Saipan), said he will talk to the media about it today.
House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), main author of the impeachment resolutions on Fitial, left Sunday for Washington, D.C. on official business. The others couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.
H.R. 18-56 says that Buckingham, during his trial, testified in detail that Fitial played a significant and personal role in the criminal offenses that Buckingham was found guilty of committing by testifying under oath and under penalty of perjury that Fitial personally ordered and arranged for the illegal police escort to the airport and the illegal attempts to thwart service of process.
It’s been a little over a year since Fitial resigned from office, after being impeached by the 18th House of Representatives.
Superior Court associate judge David Wiseman issued a warrant of arrest for Fitial on March 6, 2013.
Fitial is believed to be in his wife’s hometown of Gapan in Nueva Ecija, a Philippine province north of Manila.
“OPA [Office of the Public Auditor] has not received a call from Fitial or anyone acting on the former governor’s behalf to arrange for Fitial’s prompt and expeditious return to the CNMI so that he may stand trial,” HR 18-56 says.
It adds that those who have been elected or appointed to the Office of the Governor and extended the privilege of serving the Commonwealth “should be of exemplary personal, professional and more character so that their execution of official duties is carried out with the highest regard for equal justice, transparency, and respect for the people and their expectations of honesty, decency, and fairness.”