Villagomez certifies JGO’s holding of Dela Cruz in contempt
House of Representatives Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) certified yesterday afternoon the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee’s statement that holds Frances Dela Cruz in contempt.
In line with this, Villagomez wrote Attorney General Edward Manibusan to formally certify and request that the Office of the Attorney General initiate prosecution.
He said the lack of respect and cooperation shown the JGO Committee Tuesday affects the dignity of the CNMI Legislature as a body and the Legislature’s authority to employ compulsory process in service of its investigatory powers must be upheld.
“We cannot allow lawless flouting of the Legislature’s authority to stand,” Villagomez said.
Dela Cruz, who is the executive assistant to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, was cited for criminal contempt by the JGO after a hearing Tuesday afternoon, during which she refused to answer questions, repeatedly reading instead a statement citing her reasons for objecting to the subpoena issued her.
The JGO, chaired by Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), is investigating Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels.
Among the reasons Dela Cruz cited in her objection was that the JGO’s subpoena was dated that day, Tuesday, at 12:42pm, less than an hour before the hearing. She said the subpoena must comply with the Commonwealth Code pertaining to give enough notice to witnesses.
Dela Cruz’s counsel, Viola Alepuyo, said yesterday that they are exploring their next move. “But we will respect the process,” she said.
It was Rep. Richard Lizama (D-Saipan) who moved to hold Dela Cruz in contempt. All five JGO members present—Lizama, Celina Babauta (D-Saipan), Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan), Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota), and vice speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan)—voted “yes.”
According to the law pertaining to contempt, “an investigating committee may, by majority vote of all its members, report to the legislative houses by which it was established any instance of alleged contempt.”
The president or speaker shall certify a statement of the contempt under his or her signature as president or speaker, as the case may be, to the AG. The AG shall prosecute the offender in the Commonwealth trial court. The trial court refers to the Superior Court.
If the Legislature is not in session, a statement of the alleged contempt shall be certified by the chairman or acting chairman of the committee concerned, under his or her signature, to the AG who shall prosecute the offender.
An instance of alleged contempt shall be considered as though committed in or against the particular house or the Legislature itself, the statute states.
At Tuesday’s JGO hearing, Babauta reminded Dela Cruz of the penalties for committing contempt. Babauta said a person guilty of contempt shall upon conviction be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
In objecting to the subpoena issued her, Dela Cruz said service of a subpoena requiring the attendance of a person at a hearing of an investigating committee shall be made at least five days prior to the date of the hearing unless a shorter period of time is authorized by majority vote of all the members of the committee in a particular instance.
Dela Cruz said she objects to the subpoena because she and her employer raised testimonial immunity and executive privilege as provided under the Constitutional Separation of Powers doctrine.
She said the subpoena also exceeds the scope of legislative authority and power.
She kept repeating these in response to all questions raised by Propst, Babauta, Attao, and Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) at the hearing.