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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i


Governor Fitial Delivers State Of CNMI Address
House minority bloc members boycott speech

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 9, 2013) – Northern Marianas Governor Benigno R. Fitial was already preparing for his defense against impeachment when he delivered his State of the Commonwealth Address yesterday, according to Senate President Paul A. Manglona and former Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente.

Fitial appeared before the final session of the lame-duck House of Representatives that was attended by 13 of its 20 members.

Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos and other government officials along with employees were urged to attend the session and filled the gallery which overflowed into the lobby.

Usually, the presiding officers of both houses of the Legislature schedule a joint session to hear the governor’s address.

Even without the Senate’s participation, however, Fitial went ahead to deliver his report at 11 a.m. in the House chamber.

Incoming Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero and five of his colleagues in the minority bloc left the chamber after Fitial’s allies, by a vote of 10 to 9, approved the motion to allow the governor to deliver his speech.

Pro-impeachment Reps. Janet U. Maratita, Edmund S. Villagomez and Ramon A. Tebuteb voted against the motion, but they remained in their seats.

Disguise

Manglona and Benavente heard the governor’s address through the Legislature’s tele-conference system.

In separate interviews, the Senate president and the former lt. governor said Fitial’s 45- minute speech should be his opening testimony once his impeachment trial begins in the Senate this year.

They also doubt the governor was sincere in his apology.

Manglona said he does not think Fitial was sincere when the governor apologized for not getting the public involved in the controversial $190 million power purchase agreement.

The Senate president said it was not the first time that the governor had lied to the people.

"He has been doing this all along and he thinks he can do this one more time. His end has come and he now has to accept that he either resigns now or he will have to come before the Senate for his impeachment trial," Manglona said.

He said there is no question that the 18th House will pass the impeachment resolution and there is no question that the governor is going to be tried in the Senate which can remove him from office if six of the nine senators find him guilty.

"The speech he gave today should have been given during the coming Senate impeachment trial. That can be his opening speech there," the outgoing Senate president said.

He said it was a sign of desperation for the governor to use his outgoing House allies one last time "to continue to lie to our people."

Manglona said the governor cannot continue to blame other people for his actions.

"He is the governor and the buck stops in his office. He cannot blame his attorney general or any other people around him, all of whom are his appointees.

"He cannot continue to point fingers at other people. He has to say that the problem is his leadership. He must accept that. He cannot on the one hand apologize to the people of the commonwealth and on the other hand blame his attorney general for giving him bad advice," Manglona said.

Benavente said he knew the governor was not sincere.

"I know him. I’ve worked with the governor for many years throughout our political careers. So I know. There is no sincerity there," he said.

"The statement he made should have been reserved for the Senate impeachment trial because I think it’s more like a defense. He should stop misleading people as to the status of commonwealth," Benavente said, adding that the governor continues to make desperate moves to save himself from impeachment.

Benavente said Fitial "has been really misrepresenting" the facts, and now claims he was given bad advice by people he trusted.

"That is a lie because we know that Commonwealth Utilities Corp. officials and staffers are the real utilities professionals who figured out that he, the governor, should not sign that power purchase contract. But he still did," Benavente said.

"So who is he trying to kid about being misled by people he trusted?" he asked.

Fitial, Benavente said, "is smart and knows the difference between right and wrong. So for him to come out now and try to apologize for his mistakes when the people have already suffered for seven years — are we just supposed to forget all that suffering because he says he’s sorry now? No."

Pro-impeachment Rep. Trenton Conner said it was improper for the governor to address the outgoing Legislature in its final session when the new Legislature will be sworn in on Monday.

Too little to late

Benavente said he does not think the governor’s speech made an impact in the Senate.

"I think not. As you can see even the incoming Senate members are not interested in hearing what he had to say. Again, it was too little, too late," he said.

Benavente said he believes that there is still a chance for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to move forward and improve its situation, but Fitial must be removed from office first.

Manglona said the governor was "attempting another political maneuver."

"And he is still in denial," he added.

The people are already aware of the administration’s wrongdoings, he said.

"There is a lot of suffering in the islands because he has been negligent and inattentive to the workings of our government."

Manglona believes that once the 18th House passes the impeachment resolution, most of the incoming senators will agree that the governor must go.

"It is not that we are being personal. This really about our islands and our community, our public health, public safety and the Retirement Fund. All these will remain big problems. They are not going to go away. But we need leadership to solve them and the governor has failed to provide that leadership," he said.

Walk-out

When House Floor Leader George N. Camacho moved to amend the order of business to allow the governor to address the House, Deleon Guerrero objected prompting Speaker Eli D. Cabrera to call for a vote.

Those who voted to allow Fitial’s speech were Cabrera, Camacho, Vice Speaker Felicidad T. Ogumoro, Reps. Ramon S. Basa, Fredrick P. Deleon Guerrero, Sylvestre I. Iguel, Raymond D. Palacios, Teresita A. Santos, Stanley T. Torres and Joseph M. Palacios.

Those who voted no were House Minority Leader Joseph Deleon Guerrero, Maratita, Tebuteb, Villagomez, incoming Vice Speaker Francisco S. Dela Cruz, incoming House Floor Leader Ralph S. Demapan, Reps. Tony P. Sablan, Rep. Ray N. Yumul and Trenton B. Conner.

The minority leader said they walked out because allowing Fitial’s State of the Commonwealth Address deprived the incoming members of the 18th Legislature the opportunity to hear what the governor had to say.

He noted that Fitial’s presentation included not only what transpired in the prior fiscal years — the economic impact, social impact and revenues received — but also the measures the governor has taken and his plans for 2013.

The term of the 17th Legislature, the incoming speaker said, is almost over.

"The 17th House members cannot do anything, cannot take action. It’s not the body able to take any action on the measures proposed by the governor. It should be the 18th Legislature," he said.

"And because of that, by delivering his speech to the 17th Legislature he is basically depriving the incoming members of the opportunity to hear this address. These are the people who can take action. Because the governor deprived those new members we walked out. We feel it is not right. It was improper. There’s not a damn thing they can do about it," he added, referring to the governor’s recommendations and the outgoing House member.

He said walking out was basically a way of "registering our disappointment and objection."

He added, "What good is it for the 17th to receive this State of Commonwealth Address? What good is it? After today, they, the other 17th House members, will be gone. Today is the sine die session. What good did it do for them to listen to the speech?" he asked.

Manglona said the House minority bloc walked out to protest the governor’s "disrespect" for tradition — for how things ought to be done.

Manglona noted that over the last months, the Senate had been asking the governor to deliver his State of the Commonwealth Address

"But he never came to deliver his address. He really never wanted to do it," Manglona said.

"Now because he sees it is the end of the rope, he wants to find a place to deliver his message which is, ‘I’m sorry I made a mistake, don’t impeach me.’ He is only looking after himself. He is not looking after the people of the commonwealth and their interests."

Race card

Tebuteb said he decided not to leave the chamber because he would still hear the governor anyway over the tele-conference system so it would not have made any difference if he joined the walk-out.

He said it was not worth listening to Fitial’s speech because, the lawmaker added, the governor again played the race card.

Tebuteb said he was disturbed to hear the governor mentioning that he, Fitial, is a Carolinian.

"I think I heard him saying he was sorry because he was a Carolinian. For me that is the most disturbing comment that he made," said Tebuteb, who is also a Carolinian. "That is a stupid statement."

Maratita said she remained in the chamber to show respect for the office of the governor.

She said she was glad to hear from the governor that the power purchase deal was void.

Maratita, Yumul and the CNMI Senate sued the governor and Saipan Development over the legality of the contract.

Villagomez said he stayed in the chamber out of respect for the House vote on the motion to allow the governor to deliver his speech.

Cabrera, for his part, said he knew from the beginning that the incoming leadership did not like the governor.

"If I were one of them, I would respect at least the governor’s title, if not the person," he said.

Cabrera added, "I have no hard feelings toward any of them for leaving the chamber."

He said he invited the governor "because that is what the Constitution says."

"It is a message to the public," he said adding that the address was also "beneficial" to the outgoing House members.

Variety learned that it was the governor who asked his House allies to "invite" him to deliver his speech.

Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, a Fitial appointee, said he appreciated the governor’s speech.

"I was pleased to hear the governors’ remarks. He outlined his plans for this year and he made some concessions and I was very happy to hear what he had to say," he said.

Asked what he had to say about the House members walking out, the AG said: "That is their prerogative. That is their decision."

But he also believes the governor took the opportunity at the invitation of the speaker.

"I don’t think there is anything inappropriate in that," he said.

"I appreciated that fact that he highlighted what he wants to do this year and, going back to concessions, that was very kind of him to bring that out in the speech and I appreciate that he gave us the opportunity to hear what he has in store in 2013. I am glad that he is now talking about transparency. That should be the duty of the government. We agree on that and the fact that he took the opportunity to tell people that that is the policy of the government," he said.

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