Despite the AG’s opinion on the legality and validity of acting governor Ralph DLG Torres’ accession into the position of governor of the CNMI, there are so many people grumbling about what they perceive to be an attempt by our leaders to circumvent the rule of law as established by the CNMI Constitution.
In short, many refer to Article III, Executive Branch, of our Constitution and raise their concerns that Torres being sworn into office as governor should not have happened, that he instead should have remained in acting capacity pending the results of a special election to elect a new governor.
My take on the issue is without influence from what’s currently floating about in the media on this very subject. It is an assertion of what I understand to be the true intent of the law. Many people are in agreement thus, the raised eyebrows and complaints.
“Section 7: Succession to the Governorship and Lieutenant Governorship. In case of the removal, death, or resignation of the governor, the lieutenant governor shall become governor and the president of the senate shall become lieutenant governor.”
When Governor Inos passed away, the Lieutenant Governor became the Governor and the Senate President became the Lieutenant Governor. However, at the time of his passing, Governor Inos was off-island and Lieutenant Governor Torres was in acting capacity as Governor, “acting Governor” as predicated by following sections.
“If the offices of governor and lieutenant governor are both vacant, the president of the Senate shall become acting governor and the speaker of the House shall become acting lieutenant governor.“
Irrelevant as this statement hinges on the condition that BOTH offices are vacant at the same time.
“An acting governor or lieutenant governor who assumes office when more than one year remains in the term may serve only until a governor or lieutenant governor is chosen in a special election provided by law.”
This presents the first of two relevant arguments. Lt. Gov. Ralph DLG Torres was in fact the “acting governor” and our Constitution explicitly states that he MAY SERVE ONLY UNTIL A GOVERNOR IS ELECTED.
“Section 8: Absence or Disability of the Governor. When the governor is physically absent from the Commonwealth, the lieutenant governor shall be acting governor. If the lieutenant governor is also absent or is otherwise unavailable, the presiding officer of the senate shall be acting governor.”
This sentence established the condition that raised the issue for many and a dilemma for Torres and Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog in the positions they occupy now.
In Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ absence, Torres became the “acting governor,” again, the problem is that he should have remained in such capacity until the people have spoken in a special election.
So, should there be a special election? I believe this is required by law. To quell the persistent complaints within our communities, our Legislature can submit a certified question to the Supreme Court so we can get the official interpretation of this article of our Constitution. This is an issue that requires the voice of our Supreme Court. Whatever the court decides should be followed. If it rules that Torres is indeed the governor, so be it. If it rules that there is a need for a special election, again, we have to follow.
Whatever the decision may be, the net result will be that it shall validate the true intent and the application of the law as well as the person who will sit in the Governor’s Office. It will also silence the critics and put an end to all the questions and arguments. Many believe and rightfully so that it is not the AG’s opinion and advise that should be followed.
Additionally, should there be more doubts on this subject, our Legislature should introduce a bill to clarify succession of power, i.e., Gubernatorial Succession Law (assuming we don’t already have this type of law) to define what needs to happen should we ever have to face another issue like this.
With all due respect to all parties involved, we have to follow the rule of law and do our absolute best to avoid setting a precedent based on an erroneous interpretation of our founding document, the CNMI Constitution.
In the event that we don’t already have a gubernatorial succession law, we should look elsewhere for traditions or persuasive points of reference to use as our guide. I look at the U.S. Constitution as a major point of reference, especially the sections on the power of congress as well as that of the president. I look with special care at Amendment XX, XXII, and most especially, Amendment XV. I understand that the U.S. Constitution, in its entirety, is not applicable to us in the territory, but I’m sure it could be used as a persuasive point of reference. We live in a democracy. Our government is of the people, by the people and for the people. It is time we listen to the people. We should call for a special gubernatorial election. When governor Torres took the governor’s oath of office, he was taking it as “acting governor,” and not as a bona fide governor. Vic Hocog should resign from the Senate, and wait for an appointment to the Office of Lieutenant Governor as “acting Lt. Lieutenant Governor.” He should have resigned from the Senate, since one citizen cannot hold two positions concurrently—one the Legislature and at the same time the Executive Branch. That’s a Nn-no constitution-wise. Let’s not evade the law.
Rudy M. Sablan