Senate adopts Impeachment Rules
With five senators voting “yes,” three voting “no,” and one absence, the Senate adopted yesterday the 28-page Impeachment Rules for the trial of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, who was impeached by the House of Representatives for alleged commission of felonies, corruption, and neglect of duty.
This sets the stage for what is expected to be a partisan brawl between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House that will decide the political fate of Torres, the titular head of the CNMI Republican Party, during an election year.
The five who voted “yes” to a resolution to adopt the Rules were Senate president Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), floor leader Sen.Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan), Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), Sen. Karl R. King-Nabors (R-Tinian), and Sen. Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian).
Those who voted against the adoption were Sens. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota), and Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan).
Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (R-Saipan) was absent.
Before the voting, Manglona and DeLeon Guerrero were allowed to offer several amendments to the Rules. But with same 5-3 votes, the offer for amendments was defeated and therefore disapproved.
Unlike Monday’s special session where Manglona and Hocog figured in a shouting match during recess, yesterday’s session was orderly. Hocog kept quiet; Manglona did not raise his voice throughout the session. There was a brief tension, however, after Cruz reacted to a statement Manglona made.
Cruz pointed out that the House and Manglona want the Senate to move forward with the impeachment and now that they’re doing that, Manglona is interfering.
“Every time you come in here, we’re very patient enough to continue to accept you, while you continue to create problems,” Cruz told Manglona.
Cruz told Manglona to stop insulting them as they do not represent the governor but the public.
“We’re trying our very best. Don’t say that the governor authored this resolution in the Senate. We worked so hard on this, so don’t accuse us,” said Cruz, who chairs the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations that helped draft the Impeachment Rules.
The Tinian senator said if the House is confident in its case against Torres, then they should make their case when the time comes. He said they never bothered the House when they did their investigation on Torres, despite seeing some unfair methods in the House proceedings. He said they never interfered because the Constitution gave the House that mandate.
“Stop interfering with the process so we can move forward with this resolution that you presented to the Senate. Are you guys not confident with your case?” Cruz asked.
The senator said if the House is confident of the case, then they should wait for their time to be called when the time comes, either at the hearing or trial.
“Stop accusing us. Since the day when I came to the Senate I represent the people and the Commonwealth. I don’t represent one person. So stop accusing us. And give us that mandate so we can do our job,” Cruz said.
When Cruz was talking, a Senate sergeant-at-arms surreptitiously moved closer to Cruz and Manglona. Santos was seated between Cruz and Manglona.
Cruz’s Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations, together with the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government, Law and Federal Relations, chaired by King-Nabors, drafted the Rules of Impeachment.
Manglona said he is sorry if Cruz feels he is accusing him. He said he was actually referring to the Rules in then-governor Benigno R. Fitial’s case that was the product of Torres as then-senator, Senate legal counsel, and other counsel.
“The committee never took that as a starting point. If you look at the Rules, it is totally day and night,” said Manglona, comparing the Rules in Fitial’s and Torres’ cases.
Manglona said Hofschneider earlier promised during a session that he is going to appoint a minority member and that was a very good decision.
He said in the House, the appointed impeachment committee members were three or four minority members, but in the Senate not even one minority member was appointed.
Before Cruz gave his statement, Manglona said he wrote an email to Senate counsels Joe Bermudes and Antonette Villagomez when the session was announced last Friday night and asked them to do a detailed analysis of the Impeachment Rules “that was authored by the governor himself.”
Manglona and DeLeon Guerrero earlier sought to adopt the Senate impeachment rules of procedure in Fitial’s case as a template for the impeachment trial of Torres. In Senate Resolution 22-14
Manglona said yesterday that four or five senators present at the session had approved the Rules in Fitial’s case.
He said the best approach is to call off the passage of the Rules of Impeachment and give the committee one week, sit down with the legal counsel, address all the legal questions that had been posed, and address the public comments that were raised.
Before the voting was done to adopt the Rules, King-Nabors said impeachment is a very serious matter as it seeks to nullify the power of the people as expressed in an election. King-Nabors said the election is the means for people to express their preference for governor, the chief executive of the Commonwealth.
“The people’s choice should not be undone simply because certain politicians do not agree with the people’s choice and wish to eliminate the official elected by the people in order to satisfy their own political ambitions,” he said.
King-Nabors said obviously they have differing opinions on what is fair and what is not fair, and that’s why they put things to a vote.
He said he has reasons as the committee discussed and deliberated over the way these Rules were made.
He said would hope that House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) is versed on the documents that he transmits to the Senate.
“He will be there with support staff. He doesn’t necessarily have to be the ‘attorney.’ So again, we can agree to disagree,” King-Nabors said.
Before calling for the roll of votes, Hofschneider said they were already being condemned without really going through the hearing process.
Hofschneider said he disagrees with some of the accusations that have been made and he fully understands that not all senators, as indicated by their comments, are comfortable with the proposed Rules. He noted there are check mechanisms in the proposed Rules.
“I only ask that we move ahead so that we can get to the next step so that everyone in the Commonwealth can finally go with the process and watch the proceedings, go in an equitable and fair manner that’s open to the public,” Hofschneider said.
DeLeon Guerrero said it is clear that the adopted Impeachment Rules does not spell justice, and that despite Hofschneider’s public statement that a minority member will be appointed to the impeachment special committee, the five-members Senate impeachment committee has no minority members’ participation.
Santos said Rule 3 easily allows the members to eliminate the Articles of Impeachment in its entirety without performing their constitutional mandate to conduct the hearing.
Santos said Torres has been very vocal in the media and over social media networks that he is certain that that he will receive a fair and balanced hearing in the Senate where he intends to address each allegation so that he may prove once and for all that he has done nothing wrong.
“This section can deprive the governor from fulfilling his promise to the people of the Commonwealth,” she said.
Santos said she firmly believes that she cannot fairly formulate a sound decision, knowing that these Rules afford an unfair advantage to one party.
“My ability to render an impartial decision is trumped by this biased and prejudiced rules,” she said.
During the session’s public comments portion, Rep. Corina L. Magofna (D-Saipan) said if the Senate moves forward and adopts the Impeachment Rules as it is, then the Senate will be encroaching and overreaching into the House’s abilities to prosecute the case that’s before them.
Magofna said the Senate on the federal side has respect for their counterparts in the House.
“They give the House of Representatives the autonomy to decide for themselves who they choose for their managers and how many. Why is it that the CNMI is choosing to do it differently?” she said.
Magofna asked the senators to level the playing field for all parties involved by making the necessary amendments to the Rules.
“Do what is right for the people and do what’s fair,” she said.
Rep. Leila Staffler, (D-Saipan) said these Rules are not fair as they skew in favor of Torres. Staffler said one of the Rules that hampers this process is Rule 7, which is the appointment of the impeachment prosecutor. She said under Rule 7, the House speaker who authorized impeachment inquiry shall serve as the impeachment prosecutor.
Staffler said they are hampered by these Rules because they barred the House from choosing their own team members to be on the impeachment prosecution team.
Staffler is running for the position of lieutenant governor, with Rep. Christina E. Sablan, (D-Saipan) as her running-mate, in the Nov. 8 election.