Lineup of Cabinet appointees unveiled

Sablan, Staffler, Yumul among appointees

Gov. Arnold I. Palacios, seated left, Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang, seated right, and Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan), seventh from left, pose for a group photo with Cabinet appointees and special assistants after a news briefing yesterday afternoon in the Office of the Governor’s conference room. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang announced yesterday the appointments of most members of their Cabinet, including former representatives Christina E. Sablan and Leila F. Staffler, who have been appointed as senior policy adviser and Department of Labor secretary, respectively.

Palacios introduced the new Cabinet members, who were all present, at a news briefing in the Office of the Governor’s conference room.

Palacios said that, as their fiscal team started doing its work, they had the opportunity and the time to begin putting together the administration’s team.

“So this afternoon we’re ready to announce most of those appointments to the public,” he said.

Palacios said it’s been almost a month since he and Apatang took office, but there were a lot of critical issue that were at the forefront of their administration. “We’re very happy that we are now able to begin to constitute our Cabinet members,” he said.

Several positions have not been filled yet, including that of the Department of Public Safety commissioner, but Palacios said the names are “pretty much finalized.”

He said some of them are off-island so they are holding the announcements back until they are back on island.

The governor said these are challenging times and that he expects nothing but hard work and dedication from their appointees, just as the public expects.

“We believe that, individually they are more than qualified to take on the individual tasks. But it’s really going to be the collective effort to move the Commonwealth forward to addressing some of the issues,” he said.

With respect to Sablan’s appointment, Palacios said they are still negotiating but she will most likely be doing work as a senior policy adviser for him.

Apatang said these appointees are the people who will be “running the show” in the administration and are rebuilding the trust team.

Apatang said they invited members Legislature to the press conference as they are working together for the community and people.

He said he is looking forward to working with the media as well, and appealed to the media to put out the “right” information. “I never fight with anybody. I love everybody on this island. I’ve never known to hate anybody,” the lieutenant governor said, drawing laughter from some Cabinet members.

A news report Tuesday (not Saipan Tribune) carried a headline stating that Apatang doesn’t like his successor, Saipan Mayor Ramon Blas “RB” Camacho.

Sablan said that, as the governor had alluded, they are still negotiating the terms of her position, but her interest lies in working with Palacios and with the Legislature, the CNMI delegate in the U.S. Congress, agency and department heads, and federal partners and other stakeholders, to advance the governor’s policy agenda.

Sablan ran for governor under the Democratic Party, with Staffler as her running mate as lieutenant governor, during the Nov. 8, 2022 general elections. They came in third place in the three-way race and Sablan and Staffler immediately conceded defeat and threw their support behind the Palacios-Apatang team in the gubernatorial runoff race that was held last Nov. 25.

Sablan was a three-term lawmaker in the House of Representatives. She holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Staffler said she is excited to serve with this team, describing it as an “amazing group of professional and talented individuals who are ready to serve and see how they can help the community in this tough situation.”

“I know that each of us have a lot of solutions and innovative ways that we can look at the problems ahead and find solutions for all that can bring us to a harmony that we all need and deserve,” Staffler said.

Staffler was a teacher for 10 years, and an administrator for 10 years.

Anthony C. Torres is the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, Joseph Rios as the Department of Commerce secretary, Tracy B. Norita as the Department of Finance secretary, Ray N. Yumul is the Department of Public Works secretary, and Sylvan Igisomar is the Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary.

The secretary positions require Senate approval. While awaiting their Senate confirmation, they will be occupying their posts in an acting capacity.

For the special assistant positions, Felix Nogis is with the Office of Carolinian Affairs, Frances Sablan with the Office of Veterans Affairs, Virginia Villagomez with the Office of Management and Budget, Delbert Pua with the Office of Youth Affairs, and Daniel Aquino with the Commonwealth Bureau of Military Affairs.

Paul Tenorio is the executive director for the Criminal Justice Planning Agency.

Torres served as a correctional officer for the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons at Federal Detention Center Honolulu. He has an educational background in Criminal Justice from Chaminade University in Honolulu.

Norita served as the director of the Division of Revenue and Taxation under the CNMI Department of Finance since 2019. She is a graduate of Washington State University with a Bachelors in Business Administration, majoring in Management Operations.

Yumul was a senator representing Saipan and was a four-term House representative. He previously worked as interim chief executive officer of Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC.

Igisomar previously served as director of the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife, and as the program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. He has a master’s degree in Public Administration from Grand Canyon University.

Villagomez served as special assistant for OMB during the Torres-Palacios administration.

Aquino served as the executive director for the NMI Museum of History and Culture for the past five years. He has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management. He completed Army Officers Engineering School and is a U.S. veteran.

Nogis is a previous executive director for the Job Training Partnership Act and the Workforce Investment Agency. He is presently president of Refaluwasch for Good Governance, a non-profit organization.

Pua was employed under the DLNR-Division of Fish and Wildlife as Conservation Inspector I before being appointed as the special assistant to the Youth Affairs Office.

As of press time, Saipan Tribune was still getting more information about Rios and Tenorio.

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
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