By Monday afternoon, if the House of Representatives moves on with its session, the CNMI’s executive and legislative officers will be: Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres, Lt. Gov. Victor B. Hocog, Senate President Francisco M. Borja (Ind-Tinian) and House Speaker Ralph S. Demapan (R-Saipan). Now, read that again.
Who are they? What are the criticisms against them? What did they do or didn’t do? What do they have in common? Why should anyone care to get to know them?
Torres, a lieutenant governor for less than a year, became the youngest governor at 36 on Dec. 29, 2015, with the passing of Gov. Eloy S. Inos.
While his youthfulness, large family and heavy political machinery helped him win votes in previous elections, Torres is being criticized for lacking experience to lead the CNMI, for his close ties with exclusive Saipan casino licensee Best Sunshine, and more recently, his ascension to power as governor raises constitutional questions.
Torres graduated from Boise High School in 1996 and earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Boise State University in Idaho in 2001. It’s not publicly known what he did between the time he graduated in 2001 and the time he started working for his brothers’ law firm in 2004. Between 2004 and 2008, he worked as administrator for Torres Brothers, LLC, Attorneys at Law.
His first foray into politics was in 2007 when he ran for a House of Representatives seat representing Precinct 1. He won and was sworn into office on Jan. 14, 2008, as a member of the 16th House of Representatives. He was chairman of the Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.
After serving a single term in the House, Torres set his sights on the Senate and won the 2009 elections. He was sworn in as a member of the 17th Senate in 2010 and served as chairman of the Committee on Health and Welfare, as well as the Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs. He was re-elected in 2012 and served in the 18th Senate.
As Senate president, Torres was among a group of lawmakers who went on trips to Singapore, Macau, and other Asian countries supposedly to meet with investors interested in the CNMI. Upon their return from one of their latest trips, a Saipan casino legalization bill was introduced.
Torres became Inos’ running mate in 2014 and won in both the general elections and the runoff race. Because Inos spent several months off-island for medical reasons, Torres assumed the governor’s post in an acting capacity, including during the Internet outage and the relief and recovery after Typhoon Soudelor battered Saipan.
But there are those who believe a special election is called for by the Constitution since there’s still more than one year remaining in Inos’ term when he passed on.
Elected Attorney General Ed Manibusan said in a legal opinion there is no need to call for a special gubernatorial election.
The healthy discussion on whether or not a special election to elect a governor is called for continues. Again, the issue is likely to reach the courts because, as others put it, there is a succession issue that needs to be resolved once and for all.
A citizen demand may also be filed for a special election based on a plain reading and interpretation as well as textual analysis of Article III, Section 7 of the Commonwealth Constitution as a whole and in the context of one another, a reading of the 1985 amendment and a reading of the language of 1 CMC section 6502, among other things.
Hocog has, for years, been criticized for being untrustworthy and more recently, for his close ties with exclusive Saipan casino license holder Best Sunshine and his ascendancy to the lieutenant governorship when more than one year remains.
One of the basis for the criticism may have been an inability to pay off personal debts. In 2013, the Superior Court found Hocog and his wife liable for unpaid rent on a piece of land on Rota. The couple, who had not paid rent since 2009, was ordered to pay $292,049 in overdue rent, interest, and attorney’s costs.
He won a House seat representing Rota during the 16th Legislature, when Torres also first served as a lawmaker. He tried to run for mayor of Rota thrice but lost every time—in 1989, 2005, and 2009.
More recently, he’s taken an active role in the development of a private undertaking, M/V Luta, whose arrival in the CNMI to provide vessel services between Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam has been postponed a few times. There’s allegation that the vessel is owned or partly owned by his family members. To date, there is no news on where the vessel is.
Hocog has also been criticized for funneling, via the Rota Legislative Delegation that he headed, $400,000 in CNMI taxpayers’ money for M/V Luta’s fuel in exchange for a promised discount rates for vendors using the vessel to transport their cargo for seven months.
Like Torres, Hocog was also one of those lawmakers who went on Asian trips to meet with investors and after one of the last trips, a bill to allow casinos on Saipan was introduced.
The new Senate president, Borja, also joined Torres, Hocog and others on the Asian trips that helped lead to the introduction of a Saipan casino bill. Prior to being a senator, Borja served as mayor of Tinian.
Demapan, the expected new House speaker by this afternoon, was the main author of the bill allowing Saipan casino on Saipan. The bill was introduced after repeated Asian trips to supposedly meet with investors.
When lawmakers came under fire for passing the Saipan casino bill without any public hearings and without a committee report, Demapan, Hocog, Torres, Borja and others touted the millions of dollars that will circulate in the CNMI by way of taxes, along with helping the NMI Retirement Fund, create jobs and result in multiplier effects.
These changes in CNMI leadership come months ahead of the November 2016 midterm elections.
NOT-SO-BLIND ITEM. Local and federal authorities have been notified about alleged use of tourists as construction workers for a major tourism project on Saipan. It’s uncertain whether any preliminary check or investigation has started.
All this, at a time when some law-abiding employers had to temporarily shut down their business or reduce their operations because they have yet to get a renewal CW permit for some of their foreign workers.