As expected and after a lengthy session, the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives approved yesterday the six articles of impeachment against Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, making him the second governor in CNMI history to be impeached.
Next step is for the CNMI Senate to hold a trial. Contrary to what many believe, Torres’ impeachment doesn’t automatically mean his removal from office. The Senate will “hear” the case, with House lawmakers acting as prosecutors.
With 15 “yes” votes, four “no” votes, and one abstention, the House passed House Resolution 22-14 yesterday, impeaching Torres for alleged commission of felonies, corruption, and neglect of duty, in violation of Article III, Section 19 of the CNMI Constitution.
With the same votes, the House adopted the House resolution that has six articles of impeachment charging the governor with committing felony of theft of utility services, committing felony theft, corruption for unlawful first-class and business-class travel, corruption for misuse of government resources, neglect of duty for negligence during crisis, and neglect of duty for contempt of the Legislature.
It was a historic day, showing deep polarization gripping the community and CNMI politics in Torres’ term, and disunited Republican representatives in the House.
The impeachment votes set the stage for a trial in the Senate, which will decide a few months before Torres faces re-election, whether to acquit the youngest governor on U.S. soil or convict and remove him from office.
With the House’s action, the articles of impeachment will now go to the nine-member Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. Torres is the titular head of the Republican Party. The Senate will need a two-third vote—six votes—to convict and remove Torres.
In a statement yesterday, Torres said it is unfortunate to witness the hatred and the willful spread of misinformation from the mouths of certain individuals as evidenced by the calls for his impeachment and the demonstration held outside of the Legislature.
“I have been advocating for all of us to work collaboratively as one united Commonwealth, and yet, politically-motivated members of the House of Representatives have chosen time and time against this,” Torres said.
He said politically motived representatives have chosen to pursue a witch hunt in order to perpetuate this notion that he is a corrupt leader who does not care for the wellbeing of his home and its people.
Reiterating his previous comments that he has done anything illegal, the governor said he has trust in the Senate’s ability to conduct upcoming impeachment trial with transparency, in proper decorum, and in accordance with a set of published rules.
The public comment portion of the House session took one hour and 30 minutes as many Torres supporters and pro-impeachment advocates spoke. The session started at 10am and finished at 4:50pm.
Police officers stood inside and outside the Legislature building as Torres’ supporters and pro-impeachment and Democrat officers and supporters gathered in separate tents in front of the Legislature building.
Torres’ supporters, who outnumbered the pro-impeachment people, put up on their tent banners that read “Stop the bullying, Stop the hate, we are tired.” Other banners read “We love Gov. Torres,” “Respect My Vote, No Impeachment,” “We fight for Governor Because He Fights For Us,” and “Always Grateful, Never Hateful.”
Torres and his wife, Diann Tudela Torres, along with family members, visited the supporters. The governor made a brief remark, drawing cheers from his supporters.
The pro-impeachment supporters had banners that read “Impeach the Governor” and “Impeach.” Some Democratic Party officials were in the tent.
The representatives who voted for the impeachment were nine Democrats, three independents, and three Republicans. They were Reps. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan), Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan), Leila Staffler (D-Saipan), Corina L. Magofna (D-Saipan), Denita Yangetmai (D-Saipan), Richard T. Lizama (D-Saipan), Vicente Camacho (D-Saipan), Sheila J. Babauta (D-Saipan), Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), Joel Camacho (Ind-Saipan), Donald Manglona (Ind-Rota), vice speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan), floor leader Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan), and John Paul Sablan (R-Saipan).
The four who voted “no” were minority leader Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan), Roy Ada (R-Saipan), and Patrick H. San Nicolas (R-Tinian).
Rep. Joseph Flores (Ind-Saipan) was the only one who abstained.
The session went smoothly as there were no bitter debates. It was only San Nicolas who raised a few questions regarding the articles of impeachment.
San Nicolas, Ada, Demapan, and Guerrero explained their dissenting votes during the miscellaneous portion when members cannot debate. Flores also explained why he abstained.
Demapan said after the conclusion of the same investigation in the 21st Legislature, the findings of that investigation were provided to the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Public Auditor which are the entities that hold the powers under the constitution to determine whether real improprieties were committed against the Commonwealth and the public’s funds.
“They have not made that determination,” Demapan said.
He said also pointed out that the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee opened its investigation into Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels six months ago. “As we understand it, this investigation is still ongoing,” said Demapan, adding that there is no JGO committee report to date since the investigation has not concluded yet.
Without such a report, he said, the House members that are not members of the JGO committee lack the complete information and evidence to bring charges against anyone, be it a governor, lieutenant governor, or a judge.
“The timeline of this investigation is flawed and I wish that there was thoroughness over expediency,” Demapan said.
Rep. Christina Sablan said this impeachment resolution arises out of more than two years of legislative investigation, especially in the last seven months, through the diligent and meticulous work of the JGO committee.
Sablan said the record is voluminous as they obtained and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of government documents from multiple departments and agencies, including but not limited to the Office of the Governor, the Department of Finance, the Department of Public Safety, and the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.
“Put all these pieces together and what emerges is a pattern of waste, fraud, and abuse committed by the highest executive official in the land,” she said.
Propst said he is grateful that this impeachment process has come to an end and whether representatives vote for or against the impeachment, that’s entirely up to them as it’s their call.
“We have a job to be fiscally responsible to ensure that spending is done the correct way,” he said.
NMI Democratic Party chair Nola Hix said the 22nd House of Representatives has officially delivered on the people’s mandate and that they commend JGO chair Babauta and the members for their “outstanding work as the amount of time and monthslong effort given to this investigation was not an easy triumph.”
“This is the first step in eradicating corruption, abuse, and years of mistrust in the people’s government that will take years to restore,” Hix said.