Santos refutes RLD chair claim; ‘Finance did not certify funds’
The monolithic Rota Legislative Delegation is showing some cracks, pitting two members of the delegation against two others over a delegation session last Thursday afternoon that failed to secure a quorum.
Both Sen. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota) and Senate President Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), who were both absent from the session last Thursday on Capital Hill, were criticized for the reportedly unannounced absences.
The only ones at the session were delegation chair Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) and Rep. Donald Manglona (Ind-Rota). Youth Congress Speaker Dawno Agbayani showed up for the session but, as a non-voting member, the RLD could not act on any bills without a quorum of at least three voting members.
Both Rep. Manglona and Agbayani vented their disappointments with Santos and Hocog for skipping the session without notice last Monday. When contacted by Saipan Tribune, Sen. Paul Manglona declined to comment on the matter.
Santos told Saipan Tribune that she skipped the meeting to attend a family emergency while Hocog noted that he was in talks with Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and other members of the Legislature on the parameters of the Marianas Public Land Trust loan, House Bill 21-44.
When asked about it, Palacios affirmed that Hocog was involved with MPLT discussions last week.
In an explanation later furnished to Saipan Tribune, Santos noted that Rota delegation chair Sen. Paul Manlona “should not dictate when to call sessions. In consideration of the members’ schedule, the chairman should consult with the members of the RLD to ensure that the schedule for the session is suitable for the members to be present.”
She added that she did not receive a notice telling her of the delegation session and reiterated that Sen. Paul Manlona also failed to call for a leadership meeting prior to the session, which is customary practice.
Santos: Delegation does not have the funds to appropriate anyway
In an interview with Saipan Tribune, Santos noted that the agenda for the RLD that day was to act on House Local Bill 21-15 and HLB 21-16, respectively appropriating $86,457 in e-gaming fees for Rota residents getting hemodialysis and those with terminal illnesses and appropriating $148,920 to the Rota Municipal Scholarship Foundation for housing assistance and others.
However, according to Santos and Hocog’s meeting with Finance Secretary David Atalig, he reportedly said he has yet to release a certified availability of funds to push the bills through the delegation.
“Based on recent veto messages by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, the RLD chairman…was advised that, before the delegation can entertain any appropriation bill, it would be fiscally responsible to first obtain a certification of funds from the Department of finance,” she said, adding that the certification of funds would indicate the most recent amount available for appropriation to ensure the prevention of a veto for any proposed appropriation bill due to the lack of funding.
“…I don’t want to cast my vote…’yes’ when there is nothing,” Hocog told Saipan Tribune. “I never knew that there was an overrun by the first senatorial district’s funds that is owed to the [central government].”
The senators further discovered that the RLD, according to Atalig, still had an outstanding balance owed to the CNMI government amounting to $103,410 from previous fiscal years. She also added that the RLD owed the central government $57,677 for the Rota Little League’s recent participation in the 2018 regional tournament in South Korea.
“[Atalig] requested for additional time to review the books to familiarize himself with the history of appropriation laws by the RLD. Because of this, [Atalig] does not recommend that the RLD take any action on appropriation bills until any debts owed…are cleared due to the government’s financial situation,” Santos said.
As a final kicker, Santos cited the absence of the two Senate legal counsels, Jose Bermudez and Antonnette Villagomez. Both are reportedly on personal leave, according to Santos.
Saipan Tribune attempted to contact Rep. Donald Manglona and Sen. Paul Manglona for comments, but Sen. Paul Manglona declined, while Rep. Donald Manglona did not respond.