JGO wants her to personally appear at hearing
The House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee has deemed the sworn affidavit of Frances M. Dela Cruz to be unsatisfactory. That prompted the committee to decide yesterday to still summon the executive assistant of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres before the committee, saying that members still have a lot of follow-up questions for her.
There is no schedule yet when Dela Cruz is going to appear before the committee. It is also not clear yet if she will object to the request.
The committee, which is investigating the governor’s expenditure of public funds and travels, approved yesterday the motion of Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) to request for Dela Cruz, through her counsel Viola Alepuyo, to appear before the committee at a time that suits the committee, Dela Cruz, and her counsel.
Manglona raised the motion after the committee members present at the meeting in the House chamber read the affidavit that Dela Cruz, through her counsel, submitted to the committee yesterday morning.
Manglona said that, based on the affidavit, there are still many questions that the members would like to get clarification on and for Dela Cruz to explain further.
After all six members present approved the motion, committee chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) announced that the committee will issue a letter for Dela Cruz, through her attorney, to appear before the committee at a time that is feasible for everyone’s schedule.
Babauta said they read the affidavit in its entirety into the record for everyone’s benefit. “And just as we have expected, and what I have personally known along, based on my 16 years’ experience holding that position in that office, that Ms. Dela Cruz’s duties are strictly administrative in nature,” Babauta said.
She said they permitted Dela Cruz to submit an affidavit in good faith and gave her the opportunity to be as responsive as possible to the subpoena but, just as they have communicated many times to Torres’ counsel, Ross Garber, Alepuyo, and Office of the Governor counsel Gilbert Birnbrich, written affidavits are no substitute for live testimony.
“We cannot ask follow up questions. The members of this body are unable to ask clarifying questions,” she pointed out.
Babauta said the affidavit is unresponsive and unsatisfactory to the questions they have of Dela Cruz as it relates to her duties.
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) said that the 10-page affidavit was something that they had expected all along—just a very expansive breakdown of all of Dela Cruz’s duties and responsibilities and it does nothing but stall the hearing.
“I don’t know if this is going to be the tactic of the governor or if this is their strategy to submit affidavits,” he said. “And I’m ready to move forward. And I look forward to her [Dela Cruz] appearing before us with her legal counsel.”
Rep. Richard T. Lizama (D-Saipan) expressed hope that Dela Cruz will not be used as a scapegoat. “I am just hoping that…she will not be used as a, ‘Well, she saw it, reviewed it, and approved it,’” Lizama said.
With Dela Cruz present at the hearing, they could ask questions in good faith, he added.
At the start of the meeting, Babauta read Alepuyo’s letter to her, where she described Dela Cruz as being caught in the middle of an “unfortunate situation.”
Alepuyo reiterated in her letter that Dela Cruz “continues to unequivocally invoke her constitutional testimonial immunity and privilege, objects to the subpoena, and does not waive any constitutional rights she may now have or will have in the future.”
If the JGO has any follow up questions, Alepuyo said Dela Cruz “welcomes a process to continue to protect her right while providing the committee the information it seeks.
After reading Alepuyo’s letter, Babauta asked the six other members present to read into the record the affidavit, which responds to the committee’s subpoena issued on Oct. 8, 2021.
As outlined in her affidavit, Dela Cruz was executive assistant to then-Lt. Gov. Ralph DLG Torres from Jan. 12, 2015, until Dec. 29, 2015, then executive assistant to Torres from Dec. 29, 2015, up to the present.
Dela Cruz stated, among other things, that she was not aware that there is a requirement for Torres to submit a trip report after his travels.
Dela Cruz said at the Office of the Governor, she processed less than 20 monthly utility billings for Torres’ Commonwealth Utilities Corp. account. She said all other monthly utility billings are processed by the Special Assistant to the Administration’s account.
Dela Cruz said during the time she processed the governor’s monthly utility billings, her procedure was upon receiving the billing, she would verify if all billing information is correct such as name, address, and account number. Dela Cruz said she then processed the memo payment according to the billing. She said she would then submit the memo payment with its attachment to Torres for his review, approval, and signature.
After all approvals, she said, she would then make copies of the memo payment along with all its attachments for their office files.
Dela Cruz said the office staff would then deliver the original memo payment and all its attachments to the Department of Finance for approval and processing, and also get the office copy stamped received by Finance.