JGO Committee holds Torres in contempt


The House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee voted yesterday to hold Gov. Ralph DLG Torres in contempt after he failed to appear before the committee as “commanded” in a subpoena.

In a video posted in the Office of the Governor’s Facebook account and released to media partners about an hour before the JGO Committee meeting at 10:30am, Torres said he will not be appearing before the committee since the Executive Branch, which he heads, is a separate and equal branch of government under the Commonwealth Constitution. Several hours later, Torres sued to have the subpoena quashed.

In the video, Torres described the JGO Committee as “out-of-control,” with a simple agenda to impeach him.

“The Office of the Governor should not be and cannot be subordinated to the Legislature, let alone the overreaching acts of an out-of-control committee of the House of Representatives,” Torres said.

It was Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan), who is the NMI Democratic Party’s gubernatorial candidate in 2022, who moved to hold Torres in contempt. Torres is seeking re-election under the NMI Republican Party.

Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), who chairs the committee, and six other members voted “yes” to the motion. The other members are Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan), Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan), Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota), Rep. Richard T. Lizama (D-Saipan), and Rep. Vicente C. Camacho (D-Saipan).

The Democrat-controlled JGO is investigating Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels.

House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) needs to certify the JGO Committee’s statement holding the governor in contempt. He then also needs to request the Office of the Attorney General to initiate prosecution.

Before adjourning the meeting, Babauta said this contempt recommendation is not about the breakdown of negotiations or communications between the committee and the Executive Branch.

“It is not based on good faith disagreements over privileged assertion. Rather, it is about Gov. Torres’ failure to comply with a constitutionally backed subpoena and his intentional disregard for the rule of law,” Babauta said.

This alone, she said, justifies contempt findings because Torres has refused to appear to provide any testimony under oath.

In addressing the people, the governor said he wants to speak about the political attacks that himself and his family have endured unfairly for a long time, and that’s why he will not submit to as governor to “an unfair and unlawful political hearing.”

The governor said his office reached out to the JGO Committee last Dec. 7 to negotiate a fair and balanced setting to address their questions. He said his office exchanged conversations with the JGO Committee to discuss a neutral venue with Babauta asking questions and Villagomez acting as moderator. This event, Torres said, was also to be live streamed for the public to view. He said the JGO Committee rejected his proposal. See related article on Page 9

In moving to hold the governor in contempt, Sablan said if Torres had come in to testify under oath, they would have asked him to explain his actions, his spending of public funds, to address what appears to be a pattern of wasteful and extravagant abuse of government resources, and about his first class and business class travel at government expense.

Sablan pointed out that, since Torres became governor, he has taken over 100 trips by plane and cost the government approximately half a million dollars for himself alone, not including the travel expenses of all the people who accompanied him.

She said Torres has also gone out on at least 85 trips by boat, either on police search and rescue boats or accompanied by Department of Public Safety boats and police officers.

The lawmaker said many of these outings appear to be fishing trips, recreational trips to Managaha Island and the Northern Islands, cruises at sunset and midnight.

Torres recently accused JGO Committee of misinforming the community, saying he and his family never used Boating Safety vessels for fishing or recreational purposes.

Sablan said when push came to shove, Torres has refused to appear and answer questions under oath. Sablan said Torres has invoked immunity and privilege for himself, his staff, the DPS commissioner, without legal merit, and has allowed his secretary to be held in contempt.

“So much for nothing to hide,” she said.

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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