Flores says he abstained because he does not have all the evidence to make an informed decision
Rep. Patrick H. San Nicolas (R-Tinian) said Wednesday that the resolution to impeach Gov. Ralph DLG Torres contains many unanswered questions and clearly does not reach the necessary threshold to impeach the governor.
San Nicolas, who was among the four representatives who voted “no” to impeach Torres during Wednesday’s session, was the only lawmaker who raised some questions about the impeachment resolution filed by House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee chair Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan).
With 15 “yes” votes, four “no” votes, and one abstention, the House passed House Resolution 22-14 Wednesday, impeaching Torres for alleged commission of felonies, corruption, and neglect of duty.
Speaking during the miscellaneous portion of the session when members cannot debate, San Nicolas stated that it is pretty obvious that the numbers favor the majority for Torres’ impeachment.
The Tinian lawmaker said if the matter reaches the Senate, he trusts that the Senate will be fair and impartial in reviewing the evidence and not convict the governor.
“Let’s not misuse our constitutional authority to further our majority’s political agenda. Let the people decide and the voting people whether our governor should remain in office or not,” San Nicolas said.
He said lawmakers need to be careful in their political games and tactics so they do not degrade, erode, or belittle the Office of the Governor, or blur the lines between separate branches of government simply because they have the political majority to do so.
San Nicolas said House Resolution 22-14 demands that the governor be impeached due to the alleged commission of felonies, corruption, and neglect of duty. As these are very serious claims, he said it is incumbent upon all House members to ensure that these claims meet the highest evidentiary and legal thresholds.
To start with, San Nicolas said, he believes the most pressing question that has been left unanswered is why hasn’t the Public Auditor or the Attorney General address any of the JGO’s claims or any violations?
In his opinion, he said, maybe the simple answer is that no crime has been committed and that the JGO is simply trying to convince the House and the people of the CNMI that their disapproval of how Torres exercises his authority and discretion equates to felony.
San Nicolas pointed out that the resolution states that Torres used public funds to attend political campaigns but, according to the lawmaker, this is contrary to actual travel document presented.
He noted that the JGO never produced a single document that states that Torres traveled from Oregon or Guam, or elsewhere to attend a political function.
Moreover, he said, the JGO never produced a regulation or law that states that if the governor or any political official go off island on an official business, then he or she cannot attend a political function after business hours.
“In fact, I would even mention that this is a common practice that many past and present members of the House and the Senate have engaged in routinely because it is not illegal,” San Nicolas said.
He said the resolution claims theft of utility service, but, according to him, it is unclear if the theft is due to the amount of utility benefits received or legal authorization to even receive any utility benefits.
“The resolution claims the law does not explicitly authorize the payment of utility service but fails to acknowledge that the law does not prohibit either,” the Tinian lawmaker said.
He said in regards to the amount of utility benefits allowed, House vice speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan), who chairs the Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment, has acknowledged the absence of limit by recently introducing a bill to cap the amount of utility benefits of the governor and lieutenant governor at $1,000. Attao voted for Torres’ impeachment. He is supporting Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios’ intent to run as governor this November.
San Nicolas said the resolution claims neglect of duty when Torres traveled to the Northern Islands to promote the CNMI.
He asked what laws or regulations have been violated if the governor exercises his authority and discretion to promote the northern part of the CNMI within his expenditure authority, and by law from a budget appropriated by the Legislature.
San Nicolas said that, although it’s common for legislators to disagree with the governor’s policies, the resolution claims contempt of the Legislature because Torres challenged the JGO committee’s authority to command that he appear before them.
He said the Office of the Attorney General has the legitimate authority to prosecute that contempt claim. Not until a court rules on this matter can the JGO claim contempt, he added. Until a court rules that Torres should be held in contempt, this is not a valid claim within the resolution, he said.
Rep. Roy Christopher A. Ada (R-Saipan) also stated during the miscellaneous portion of the session that there’s an obvious move to impeach Torres at the House for political gain.
Ada said what he’s hearing is that there are claims that “the people have spoken” when it comes to impeachment but “let us not forget that there are many people that came in support of ‘no to the impeachment.’ So are we just [going] to turn a blind eye to these guys?” referring to Torres’ supporters who spoke at the public comment portion and to the many supporters of the governor who gathered under a tent in front of the Legislature building on Capital Hill.
Ada said he listened to both sides and weighed his decision. He said voting “no” is not a political thing for him, but about gathering all the necessary information, documentation, and the resources that are afforded to them.
Given the lack of expert opinions from the attorney general and other law enforcement, he feels that he does not have enough information right now to support the impeachment.
The lawmaker said he does not understand what some of his colleagues or other people mean when the say that Torres has misguided the Commonwealth and has not provided services, considering where some people are now since the devastations of super typhoons Soudelor and Yutu. “But yet we’re here. And this body is trying to impeach the governor who has done so many things,” the lawmaker said.
Ada said the reason why he is saying that is because he was there as a government employee, working with the Torres administration during disasters and relief efforts.
With respect to COVID-19 pandemic, the lawmaker said the CNMI under Torres easily managed to get over 80% vaccinated and managed to keep the islands safe.
He questioned why some members of the House are expending so much energy on the impeachment while people need hospital resources and schools need attention.
“And yet we’re here discussing impeachment,” Ada said.
Aside from San Nicolas and Ada, the two others who voted “no” to the impeachment were minority leader Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) and Rep. Joseph Lee Pan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan).
Rep. Joseph A. Flores (Ind-Saipan), who is a former police officer, said he came to a conclusion that he does not have all the evidence to make an informed decision that day. With that, Flores abstained from voting.