Take 2: House OKs salary bill

The CNMI House of Representatives passed yesterday a new measure to set the salary level of members of the Legislature.

This was the second time that the House acted on such a measure after then acting governor Victor B. Hocog vetoed last week a similar bill that had been passed by both chambers in November. The new measure, House Bill 20-195, now goes to the Senate.

Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) re-introduced H.B. 20-195, setting the annual salary of lawmakers at $32,000—the amount that Hocog is amenable to.

The previous version of the bill, H.B. 20-194, would have given legislators the same compensation of $39,300 as per the recommendation of the Salary Advisory Commission instead of the $70,000 set in Public Law 19-83.

The CNMI Supreme Court, in Manibusan v. Larson, had ruled last August that P.L. 19-83 was unconstitutional as it violates Article 2 Section 10 of the CNMI Constitution. That law gave members of the Legislature an 80-percent salary increase.

The compensation of lawmakers needs to be settled before the Jan. 14 inauguration. Otherwise, the incoming members of the 21st Legislature would receive an annual salary of $8,000. That amount was the original annual compensation of the first CNMI Legislature.

All seven House members that voted yesterday unanimously approved the new legislation. Ten other lawmakers—who will be part of the 21st Legislature—recused themselves due to conflict of interest.

House legal counsel John Cool cited Article II Section 15 that states that current members of the Legislature that has financial or personal interest in a bill may not debate or vote on the legislation.

House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan), floor leader Rep. Glenn L. Maratita (R-Rota), and Reps, Francisco C. Aguon (R-Saipan), Edwin P. Aldan (R-Tinian), Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), and Gregorio M. Sablan Jr. (R-Saipan) were the only ones allowed to vote.

Ten members recused themselves as they will be returning to the 21st Legislature after winning in last month’s election, with Rep. Vinnie F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan) clinching one of the two Saipan Senate seats. Vice speaker Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan), and Reps. Donald C. Barcinas (R-Saipan) and Alice S. Igitol (R-Saipan) were excused for personal reasons.

Aldan chose to run for the Tinian mayoralty post and won, while Speaker Demapan, floor leader Maratita, Aguon, and Sablan lost their respective re-election bids. Demapan was unsuccessful in unseating Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), while Deleon Guerrero failed in his bid to claim one of the two Senate seats at stake for the Third Senatorial District.

Minority leader Rep. Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), along with Reps. Blas Jonathan Attao (Ind-Saipan), Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), Francisco S. Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Jose I. Itibus (R-Saipan), Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan), John Paul P. Sablan (R-Saipan), and Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan) recused themselves.

Not the recommendation

Hocog earlier said that H.B. 20-194 did not follow the recommendation of the Supreme Court regarding the salary increases for members of the Legislature, hence his decision to veto it last week. He vetoed the bill when he was the acting governor.

“Well, I made that hard decision after two meetings with the [CNMI] Attorney General. The AG…was very strong in saying that we need to comply with the Supreme Court’s recommendation.”

Hocog believes the current members of the Legislature still have time to pass the bill. “They [20th Legislature] have up to Jan. 14 to do that.”

‘Enough time’

Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), in a separate interview with the Saipan Tribune, said that are ready to act on it and they still have more than a month before the Jan. 14 inauguration. “There’s still a lot of time…to act on it.”

“The number is between $32,000 and $47,000, and obviously the AG and acting governor are saying that we should stick with $32,000 to be on the safe side. The legislation needs to be re-introduced at the House. The law must originate from them.”

“The Senate is ready to act on any legislation to fix the salaries. Otherwise the folks in the [21st] Legislature next year will get $8,000. I don’t think that’s a reasonable salary since that is below minimum wage. So, we will be waiting whatever action comes from the House and we would probably have a session before New Year,” said Palacios, who won as Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ running mate in the last election.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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