With his wife of 32 years beside him, House minority leader Diego T. Benavente (R-Saipan) announced yesterday his resignation as a lawmaker effective July 16 to spend more time with his family.
“After over 20 years in politics, I feel that it’s really time for me to pay greater attention to my family,” Benavente said in a news briefing amid the presence of family, friends, colleagues, and supporters in the House chamber.
Benavente, one of the longest serving lawmakers, spent more than 15 years in the Legislature as a speaker, minority leader, and member. He served as lieutenant governor from 2002 to 2006 to then governor Juan N. Babauta.
His colleagues and other elected officials described Benavente’s resignation as a “big loss” to Capital Hill and to the public, but respected his decision to devote his time with his wife Vicky and children Jacob, Diana, James, and Dolores.
Senators and House members said Benavente “is one of the best leaders” in the CNMI, one with a deep understanding and knowledge of parliament procedures, a good negotiator, and one that puts the interest of the public before anyone and everything else.
Benavente said he’s not totally closing his doors to politics. He might run as lieutenant governor in the next general election.
After his resignation, he said he will work in the private sector.
‘No special election needed’
Benavente said he was eligible to retire as early as April this year but decided to delay his retirement until after serving half of his term so that the CNMI government won’t have to spend for a special election to fill the vacancy his resignation will create.
Article II Section 9 of the NMI Constitution says that when less than one-half of the term remains, the governor shall fill the vacancy by appointing the unsuccessful candidate for the office in the last election who received the largest number of votes and is willing to serve or, if no candidate is available, a person qualified for the office from the district represented.
“As such, once Rep. Diego Benavente resigns, the governor will then appoint the next candidate who received the largest number of votes who is willing to serve,” said acting pres secretary Teresa Kim yesterday.
That person is former representative Janet Maratita, who is currently program manager for the Department of Public Health’s Diabetes and Non-Communicable Disease Control.
Mararita, who was present at the news briefing, later told reporters that, while she’s torn between continuing with her job at DPH and becoming a lawmaker again, “I just have to accept when duty calls.”
She ran and won under the Covenant Party and served in the 14th House of Representatives. In the 2009 election, she ran under the Republican Party and lost to Benavente.
Both House majority and minority members hope that Maratita would join them.
‘A big loss’
Prior to the news briefing, Benavente submitted his resignation letter to House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan).
“With this letter, I am officially notifying the governor of my resignation and allowing for a replacement of my seat in the 17th House of Representatives,” Benavente said in the two-page letter.
Acting press secretary Kim said “the administration regrets that Rep. Benavente, a CNMI leader for many years in various capacities, has decided to resign.”
“It will be a great loss to the political landscape of our islands. We will miss him,” she added.
Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan) said “it’ a real sad day for us.” He said no matter how painful it is to see Benavente resign, he and his colleagues respect his decision.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) said he has “mixed feelings” about Benavente’s resignation—a sentiment that Benavente himself shares but he said it’s time to turn his focus to his family’s welfare.
“A decision to retire is a difficult decision,” Benavente said.
Upon learning of Benavente’s decision, Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) tried to convince his colleague to change his mind.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve seen in office. I will miss his deep knowledge of parliament procedures…He always keeps the public in mind,” he said.
Benavente thanked his family, supporters, his colleagues in the minority, the whole House of Representatives, the Senate, his staff, the Legislative Bureau, his constituents, the media and the public for giving him the opportunity to serve for more than 20 years.
Benavente, who came from a family of fishermen, served in the 7th through 12th Legislatures. Among his most recent major bills is the CNMI’s shark fin ban law, which gained regional and national recognition.
In related news, Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan) also announced during the news conference that he won’t be seeking re-election at the end of his term and will also devote his time to his family.