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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Inos asked anew to ‘bring Fitial to justice’
Senate president says he supports ‘people’s mandate’

Acting House speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan) said yesterday that Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ statement that the process for international extradition is a function of the federal government—not the local government—poses the question of whether Inos “is saying that he is unwilling to do anything” to bring back former governor Benigno R. Fitial to face the charges against him related to corruption.

“Is he confirming that he is doing absolutely nothing to bring former governor Fitial to justice?” Dela Cruz asked.

Dela Cruz said the CNMI people and House members who support the resolution know quite well that the governor “can take steps to help the process along.”

“This of course assumes that he is inclined to do so. Since the issuance of the arrest warrant in March 2013, has Governor Inos lifted a finger this past year to assist the extradition process? Has the governor picked up the phone to see if he can be of assistance? What has Governor Inos done?” Dela Cruz asked.

The resolution that Dela Cruz and six other lawmakers prefiled on Monday requesting the governor to take the necessary steps for Fitial’s extradition will be acted on during the House’s tentatively set session on Tuesday.

Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) separately said yesterday he supports the prefiled resolution, “to support what the people decide, the mandate of the people.”

“Obviously I’m also in support of doing the right thing,” Torres told reporters after a session of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation yesterday.

Torres, Inos’ running mate in the November gubernatorial elections, said the extradition process “is not that simple.”

“I guess the first question is, has the request been made? If the request has been made, then let us follow through. If the request is not made, then…they have to look the process on that,” the Senate president added.

Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George Hasselback, meanwhile, said yesterday he cannot comment on this specific case at this time but as to the extradition process, he had this to say: “Generally speaking, extradition is a process to return somebody somewhere after they’ve been arrested and as far as I know, nobody has been arrested. Beyond that, I really don’t have any comment specifically on this case because the case is still ongoing,” Hasselback, special prosecutor, told Saipan Tribune.

Dela Cruz said he’s glad that the governor agrees that “no one is above the law.”

“But saying that he cannot negotiate with the Philippine government, that he must respect the Constitution, allow the special prosecutor and the feds to do their job—all of that is just talk. And now he invites the Legislature to extend the same respect to the hardworking law enforcement authorities? Thank you for the invitation but where was the respect for the FBI at the airport? The governor should stop issuing invitations. That is how Fitial got this whole thing started in the first place,” Dela Cruz said.

He said the resolution asks in a respectful manner “that the governor do what he can. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

“Twenty three words: ‘The House hereby requests that Governor Eloy S. Inos take the necessary steps for the extradition of former CNMI Governor Benigno R. Fitial.’ Is that so hard to understand? If the governor sincerely believes that the law ties his hands to the extent that he will be ineffective, then I still respectfully maintain that he call up the relevant federal authorities. If he is willing to waste his breath lecturing the Legislature, why won’t he waste his breath for a good cause—bringing Fitial to justice?” Dela Cruz said.

He added that they are interested in the governor’s actions, not his words.

“Lecturing the Legislature is a futile exercise that will accomplish nothing to get Mr. Fitial back home,” he added.

Inos, while still in Washington, D.C. for a series of meetings, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that “some local lawmakers are erroneously implying” that the process for international extradition is a function of the local government.

He said the special prosecutor—not the governor—“has to go through the federal Department of Justice, who then forwards it to the Department of State, who then makes a formal request to the Government of the Philippines.”

Fitial is believed to be in his wife’s hometown of Gapan in Nueva Ecija, a Philippine province north of Manila.

Inos said the resolution should direct the special prosecutor, not the governor, to initiate the necessary steps for extradition.

Dela Cruz told Saipan Tribune that the federal government would not do anything if the CNMI government does not ask for help.

Superior Court associate judge David Wiseman issued a warrant of arrest for Fitial on March 6, 2013, in connection with the criminal case against Buckingham, who was convicted and sentenced last week.

Fitial resigned from office on Feb. 20, 2013, after being impeached by the 18th House of Representatives for 18 articles of corruption, felony, and neglect of duty. He stepped down days before the start of his impeachment trial at the Senate.

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