Pardon, commute, and reprieve


An older Carolinian who calls Ben Fitial “my brother” says, “Brother Ben forgot he was Carolinian.” A recognized leader among his ethnic group, former governor Fitial pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office and conspiracy to commit theft of service. He was sentenced to a year of incarceration by the Superior Court of the CNMI on June 25, with sentence to commence on or before July 6.

Gov. Inos commuted the sentence so Fitial will not have to serve time at all.

The three options mentioned by Gov. Inos (as stated in our title) gives the impression that it is the only ones he was constitutionally allowed to do something about, akin to the U. S. military’s characterization of the EIS as providing only three alternatives. As was previously pointed out in the EIS, doing nothing, not converting Pagan and Tinian into live-fire training grounds IS an option. The governor was equally in a position not to do anything in response to Fitial’s application letter for pardon, which we now understand, was made before the sentencing, with Gov. Inos asking the Board of Parole for their suggestion two days before the sentencing itself. The broth was boiled ahead of the feast on this one!

The request letter obviously put the governor between the proverbial rock and the hard place, vowing to make a decision before leaving for vacation to the Chamorro stomping ground in the Pacific northeast (in case one missed the allusion on the geo-social grid of the Orient, the West Coast of the United States has become the East Coast of the Pacific Ocean, from the Asian perspective, and the demographics).

The Board of Parole, convened at the request of the governor, recommended a commutation of sentence but not pardon. In common sense meanings, pardon is a forgiveness of an offense and has no significant consequence, or that the perpetrator is no longer subject to accountability. Commute is to reduce a sentence to make it less severe, in this case no severity at all save as what is publicly known to be the medical malady of our ex-governor. Reprieve cancels or postpones a sentenced punishment.

We write under a parent company that regarded Ben Fitial as a member of the family. We recognize, nonetheless, the larger mandate to serve the interest of the general public, and to the latter, we draw ourselves within the line.

Commute clearly recognizes that an offense was made. Spiriting a masseuse in the shadows of night from a correctional facility to knead Fitial’s aching back is hardly kosher, let alone politically appropriate. The deliberate blocking of a service to deliver an order of the court is a crime more than just the political arrogance of power that it was. Not a few in our editorial staff remember the Marcoses’ misuse of executive powers in the Philippines, and, perhaps Fitial thought he could get away with the practice as well.

Knowing of Ben Fitial’s physiology, no one denies him the medical attention he requires at a critical time of his prime. A commute reduces the severity of his sentence; in this case, it get Fitial off the hook out of confinement save as his medical condition needs, and still carry the weight of a sentence that affirms, “no one is to be considered above the law.”

Gov. Inos’ commutation, heeding the advice of the Board of Parole, keeps all views in place; letting Fitial off incarceration without invoking “forgiveness,” which recently found media’s use when expressed by victims’ families of Dylann Roof’s Charleston massacre that relieves all the residue of guilt. As the saying goes, “It is easy to forgive, less to forget.” Fitial, of course, does not compare to Charleston.

In terms of severity, the Charleston massacre reflects the deep malady that abides around the world. The best-selling cosmetic in Sinosphere is the whitening cream! Susan Smith writes of the strategy to use Obama’s church pastor against his possible election (a black man in the WH) by turning Pastor Wright into a racist. The strategy backfired and Obama got elected.

Still, my Carolinian friend may be right but with our caveat: au contraire, Ben Fitial acted as an unrestrained matua. Carolinians historically had women tend to the home and the land (thus the matrilineal local command and line of real estate ownership) while men navigated the free open seas, gaining alertness and stoic ennui in chewing betel nut. Fitial was, true to form, not seeing anything wrong with his judgments of leadership prerogatives in his political affairs, albeit doing so in a climate that saw such behavior to be legally criminal.

The affair is beyond forgetting. The legal wrangling ceases but the regurgitation of sour grapes won’t abate. Tina Sablan testified toward a balanced sense that a crime was committed, reminding us that the consequences of Fitial’s action are not to be casually dismissed. Agreed.
I also go with the wisdom after the typhoon: it is done. Assess the damage, rebuild, and move on.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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