Gov. Eloy S. Inos has granted the commutation of the one-year prison sentence for former governor Benigno R. Fitial.
Fitial will get no jail time, according to the commutation order.
The decision was announced in a commutation order signed by Inos yesterday.
“Now, therefore I, Eloy S. Inos, Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, pursuant to the clemency power conferred upon me by Article III of the Constitution of the CNMI, have granted and by there presents do grant a commutation of sentence to Benigno Fitial by removing the requirement for Benigno Fitial to serve any jail time including suspended jail term pursuant to CNMI Supreme Court Order in Criminal Case No. 14-0051,” the commutation order said.
The commutation order further stated that, “all other conditions, requirements, and obligations imposed by the court shall not be affected by this Commutation Order and shall remain.”
Inos has issued the commutation order to Ramon B. Camacho, chair of the CNMI Board of Parole.
‘No other reason’
The decision to approve the commutation of the jail sentence was “not an easy one” Inos in a statement said.
“But I am certain in my conscience that it is the right decision,” he said.
The governor said it is “in our culture to be more compassionate toward each other, and it is also in our culture not to claim victory or take joy in the fall of our own citizens.”
Inos mentioned Fitial’s years of service to the CNMI.
“He (Fitial) played an integral part in the formation of our Covenant, served in the Legislature, and served as governor.”
Inos said he understands “that there will be those in the community who will not look favorably upon this decision, but as reasonable citizens, I am hopeful that they will join me as we move forward and put this behind us.”
Inos also said he is “exercising my power as governor because of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the health of the former governor Fitial and for no other reason.”
The 69-year old Fitial has been seeking medical treatment in the Philippines.
In May, Fitial and the government agreed to a plea deal, in which Fitial may enter a guilty plea to two offenses including misconduct in public office and conspiracy to commit theft of service.
Early last month, Fitial pleaded guilty on the two charges, making him the first chief executive of the Commonwealth to be convicted.
On June 25, Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman imposed the one-year prison sentence on Fitial.
For the crime of conspiracy to commit theft of services, Wiseman sentenced the defendant to the maximum term of five years in jail.
But in view of several and significant mitigating circumstances and for those reasons only, Wiseman suspended all except one year and the maximum fine of $5,000.
For the crime of misconduct in public office, Fitial was given a one-year imprisonment sentence, all suspended except for 30 days, to run concurrent with the sentence in the other offense and the maximum fine of $1,000.
Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan) said she “respects the decision” of Inos. She declined to comment further.
House Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said he “is not supporting the decision, but he respects it.”
Other leaders of the Legislature also declined to comment.
In an earlier interview and before the commutation order was signed, Rep. Raymond A. Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) declined to comment.
Former lawmaker and journalist Tina Sablan, who opposed the commutation of sentence for the former governor, said “Public trust in government is a fragile thing. Here in the Commonwealth it has been betrayed and broken again and again, and it is difficult to rebuild.”
“Given the circumstances in which Governor Inos rose to political power in the first place, he of all people must be conscious of the hope and the expectation that his legacy in office would be about restoring our trust in government. His decision to commute Mr. Fitial’s sentence deals a serious blow to that trust, and I hope that he addresses the implications of his actions openly, honestly, and soon,” Sablan said.
She added that she would like “to thank all the good men and women in law enforcement for their courage, tenacity, and commitment to justice in our Commonwealth.”
“May they continue to fight the good fight, and know that they are appreciated and supported by the many citizens they work to protect. Someday, we will truly have a government of laws. Their efforts today, and the continuing efforts of every engaged citizen—bring us closer to that vision,” she said.
The governor last week said that he plans to make a decision on the commutation of the sentence before he flies today to Seattle on a three-week vacation to meet with family members in the U.S.
A few days after Fitial’s conviction, the Board of Parole unanimously voted to support a commutation of sentence for Fitial. The board also unanimously voted to object the granting of absolute pardon for the former official.
The board said it decided to conduct the hearing after Inos requested last June 22—or two days before the sentencing—for a consultation on whether or not grant a pardon to Fitial
Inos confirmed sending the letter seeking recommendation, but said he is not entirely sure whether it was sent “two days before” or “two days after” the sentencing. “But it’s all really about consultations,” Inos said.
After being asked if he will follow the Board of Parole’s recommendations, Inos said, “I can follow it. But I’m not required to.”
Inos also clarified that he was not approached by the camp of Fitial before the sentencing. However, he said Fitial “submitted an application for pardon.” Inos said this is the reason he sent a letter of intent to the board.