‘House has the numbers; Senate will be fair’

Attao appointed to chair impeachment committee

Blas Jonathan T. Attao, Ralph DLG Torres and Gilbert Birnbrich

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres conceded yesterday that the House of Representatives has the numbers to impeach him, but he is confident it will not prosper in the Senate.

This comes as House of Representatives Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) appointed yesterday vice speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan) as chairman of the Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment that will evaluate whether to impeach Torres.

Villagomez also appointed to the committee eight members—Republican Reps. Angel A. Demapan, Joseph Lee Pan T. Guerrero, and Patrick H. San Nicolas, and Democrat Reps. Christina E. Sablan, Corina L. Magofna, and Leila C. Staffler, and independent Reps. Joseph A. Flores and Donald M. Manglona.

Villagomez said this committee is authorized to issue subpoenas. He said the committee will have 30 days to submit a written report on the impeachment resolution, House Resolution 22-14, unless Attao asks for additional time.

Gilbert Birnbrich, who is the counsel for the Office of the Governor, asked Villagomez yesterday not to include Sablan in the committee as she has already announced her intent to run as governor under the NMI Democratic Party in the November 2022 gubernatorial election.

Birnbrich said the committee should also not include those representatives who have previously expressed an opinion on the guilt of Torres.

In response to a question during a KKMP radio press briefing yesterday, Torres said the House has the numbers to impeach him, but that he is sure that the Senate will be fair and is confident that the impeachment proceedings will not go further before the Senate.

Benigno R. Fitial was the first governor to be impeached by the House when 16 representatives voted for his impeachment in 2013. He, however, resigned before the Senate could start the trial.

In Torres’ case, it was House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (R-Saipan) who introduced Monday House Resolution 22-14 impeaching Torres for alleged commission of felonies, corruption, and neglect of duty in violation of Article 3, Section 19 of the CNMI Constitution.

As of yesterday afternoon, 13 representatives have already signed the impeachment resolution, including Babauta. Rep. Sheila J. Babauta (D-Saipan), who is off-island, is expected to sign it.

Those who signed the resolution are eight Democrats—Babauta, Sablan, Edwin K. Propst, Vicente C. Camacho, Richard T. Lizama, Denita K. Yangetmai, Magofna, and Staffler.

Three Republicans signed the resolution: Attao, and Reps. Ralph N. Yumul and John Paul Sablan.

Two independents—Rep. Joel C. Camacho and Manglona—also signed the resolution.

As of yesterday afternoon, House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez and Joseph A. Flores, both independents, have not signed the resolution yet.

The four others who have not signed the resolution are Republican Reps. Roy A. Ada, Patrick H. San Nicolas, Angel A. Demapan, and Joseph Lee Pan T. Guerrero.

Torres will be impeached if at least 14 House representatives vote to adopt the resolution. Once the governor is impeached by the House, the nine-seat Senate will then hold a trial. If six senators vote for his conviction, Torres will be removed from office.

Six senators are Republicans. They are Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider, vice president Justo S. Quitugua, Sens. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan, Victor B. Hocog, Karl R. King-Nabors, and Francisco Q. Cruz.

Sen. Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero is a Democrat, while Sens. Teresita A. Santos and Paul A. Manglona are independents.

In his letter to Villagomez yesterday, Birnbrich said the public should have confidence that the members of the committee, who are considering the removal of a governor are not be motivated by prejudice, bias, or partisan considerations.

In the footnote of his letter, Birnbrich said it would also be unseemly for the committee to have any members who are themselves accused of criminal activities.

Rep. Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan), a member of the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee, has a pending criminal case before the Superior Court after he, along with two others, allegedly assaulted a Commonwealth Ports Authority employee in China Town last Oct. 29. Camacho pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan), also a member of JGO committee, is facing investigation by the House Ethics Committee after Grace Sablan Vaiagae filed an ethics complaint against him last Nov. 9 over allegations that he had sex with several underaged women some 20 years ago when he was still a teacher at Marianas High School and an employee at the Northern Marianas College. Propst has denied the allegations.

Given the significance of the potential removal of a sitting governor, Birnbrich said such a committee and the procedures by which it operates should be above reproach.

As to the membership of the committee, Birnbrich said they are requesting that they be evenly divided among those who caucus with Republicans and with the Democrats.

With respect to the procedures, he said they request that the House adopt explicit rules that govern the process by which the committee will operate, including the admission of evidence, taking of testimony, and due process afforded the governor.

Birnbrich said absent rules, the special committee will be making ad hoc decisions on these critical matters, which would undermine the public’s confidence in its legitimacy.

He said in other jurisdictions, House committees evaluating the impeachment of governors have operated according to such rules.

He said an impeachment process is a grave undertaking with implications for the entire government of the CNMI and for the future of the Commonwealth.

“We hope to work cooperatively with you to ensure the process has the requisite reliability and dignity,” Birnbrich told the speaker.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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