AT CNMI BAR ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIP MEETING
Former Superior Court presiding judge Edward Manibusan and attorney Michael Norita Evangelista shared their thoughts and views yesterday on the position of elected attorney general and laid out their plans if voted to the position this Nov. 4 election.
Manibusan and Evangelista, who are the two contenders for the first elected AG in the CNMI, were the guest speakers at the CNMI Bar Association’s general membership meeting at Hyatt Regency Saipan’s Giovanni’s Restaurant.
After their speeches, the two candidates answered some questions asked by Bar members.
Evangelista, who was the first to deliver his speech, said that having an elected AG represents the “will of the people” and ensures accountability to the people. He said it guarantees independence to the office of the top law enforcement officer of the CNMI.
Because the AG is no longer appointed by the governor, the Office of the Attorney General is now free from political influence and interference, he said.
“The AG is now insulated and protected from political reprisals, retribution, and even removed by an over-bearing and interfering governor,” said Evangelista, who used to serve as a criminal prosecutor.
This newfound independence, Evangelista said, maximizes the AG’s ability to perform his or her duties without fear of losing one’s job.
“This is job security that was nonexistent before. Having this job security now strengthens the office’s ability to fight corruption at all levels of government and enforce the laws to the fullest extent,” he said.
Having an elected AG also legitimizes the OAG, he said, because this allows the OAG to check the powers of the Executive Branch, protects against any abuse of power, and ensures that all laws are enforced.
“This ensures that no one is above the law and, inherently, it promotes and strengthens public trust in the Office of the Attorney General,” Evangelista said.
The people, he said, want an AG whose office is independent and free from any political interference, and they want an AG who will not tolerate corruption and one who will aggressively fight corruption in government
“I, too, agree wholeheartedly with our people’s mandate and that is why I am standing here today before you,” he said.
Manibusan began his speech by briefly citing his legal career background and government positions, including as past Bar Association president, a short stint as attorney general, Superior Court presiding judge, and Department of Public Safety police director, among others. He cited years of managerial experience as attorney, judge, and administrator.
Manibusan said if he is elected, he will work with the Legislature to secure the AG’s authority to do its procurement, hiring of personnel, and setting its own budget.
He said he will review the office’s staffing necessities, including salary and benefits, recruitment, retention and training of staff.
Manibusan said he also wants to acquire office space to see the entire AG’s office under one roof.
“This increases efficiency, pooling resources and cost savings,” he pointed out.
Manibusan said he will establish a division or section to handle white collar/public corruption cases such as special investigative unit and task forces.
He will also create a solicitor’s division to expedite providing legal advice to the governor and agencies and provide review of contracts, and to centralize all AG legal opinions.
Manibusan said he will explore the idea of establishing a Tax Section to review and enforce tax codes and statutes.
He noted that the Division of Revenue and Taxation has had no director for a long time now “so there may be lacking in enforcement of tax laws.”
Manibusan said he wants to ensure that OAG activities are coordinated with law enforcement, emphasizing the importance of pursuing justice and not just prosecuting for the numbers.
“This means looking at the charging phase of the case, plea bargaining policies, working with law enforcement in investigating cases,” he said.
He underscored the need to review or establish policies for arrest and detention.
“Too many time, cases are brought via arrest and detention without adequate investigation,” he said.
Prosecutors are left out in the cold and valuable time is taken away from them when cases are brought prematurely, he added.
The former judge said he wants to ensure full freedom of political expression, look at some form of sentencing guidelines, and fight cyber crime.
In protecting the people of the CNMI, Manibusan said he will appoint a consumer counsel to protect consumers from fraud and that procurement of good and services by the government will be taken seriously.
He vowed to ensure transparency in all government procurement.
“I will protect taxpayer’s money from waste and abuse,” Manibusan added.