Bill to clip AG’s power passes House
Lawmakers butt heads during discussions
After much heated discussion yesterday, a bill described by opposing lawmakers as one that clips the powers of the attorney general passed the House of Representatives.
Introduced by Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), House Bill 20-43 strips away the attorney general’s authority to review regulations and contracts of any executive department, agency, or basically anything that has to do with the CNMI government, including public corporations—unless it is asked to do so.
Besides this provision, the bill takes away the attorney general’s roles as the exclusive source of legal advice for government agencies and public corporations. According to the bill, the government should be able to hire non-governmental lawyers without the consent or approval of the attorney general.
The bill, which resulted in a vote of 11 for and eight against, passed with three representatives siding with the minority bloc.
Rep. Alice Igitol (R-Saipan) believes the attorney general’s actions show that he has not been representing the CNMI. She added that the AG has a client to serve, and that the AG, who is the chief legal adviser of the government, should support the CNMI government.
Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” T. Guerrero (R-Saipan) agreed with Igitol. “Who appointed him to be above the governor?” asked Guerrero. “There is no fourth branch of the government,” he said, adding that they “need to put him in [his] place.”
Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), who seemed to be the least heated during discussions, supported the bill. Demapan said he was prompted to support the bill in the wake of the CNMI governor’s plan to appeal a Ninth Circuit decision to allow those of non-CNMI descent to vote on Article 12 (land alienation clause). Manibusan’s office had reportedly declined to represent the CNMI in that appeal.
“The governor asked for representation [for the appeal of the case at the Ninth Circuit] but was declined,” said Demapan. “Enough is enough.”
Rep. Ed Propst (Ind-Saipan) pointed out that most of those that support the bill have problems with Attorney General Edward Manibusan himself. Propst also argued that 81 percent of voters voted for an elected attorney general so that the AG “won’t become a lapdog for the governor.”
Propst also argued that since the impeachment of a former governor, they “didn’t hear anything about trying to weaken or diminish the powers of the governor.”
Rep. Don Barcinas (R-Saipan) believes that the people that voted for an elected attorney general have spoken, and that they should “let people make changes—not this body.”
Dela Cruz believes that an elected attorney general for the CNMI is still in its infancy and that it should first be given a chance since elections are coming up next year.
Following further discussions on technicalities and possible ramifications, the votes came in, with Reps. Frank Aguon (R-Saipan), Edwin Aldan (R-Saipan), Blanco, Demapan, Leepan, Joseph “Leepan” Guerrero Igitol, Janet Maratita (R-Saipan), Glenn Maratita (R-Saipan), Gregorio Sablan Jr. (R-Saipan), and House Speaker Ralph Demapan (R-Saipan) voting for HB 20-43.
Propst, Dela Cruz, Barcinas, Reps. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Blas Joseph “BJ” Attao (Ind-Saipan), Joe Itibus (R-Saipan), Vinson Sablan (Ind-Saipan), and minority leader Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) voted against.
Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) was absent from the session.
HB 20-43 now heads to the Senate for action.