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CNMI House Votes To Initiate Impeachment Process
Special investigation panel to report findings soon

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 23, 2013) – By a vote of 19-0, the House of Representatives in the Northern Marianas approved yesterday the "initiation" of impeachment proceedings, shortly after Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) introduced a resolution impeaching Governor Benigno R. Fitial for 18 allegations of corruption, felony, and neglect of duty and his creation of a seven-member Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment.

The special panel expects to wrap up its report and recommendation to the full House by the end of January or early February.

During yesterday morning's session, the speaker clarified that the 19-0 vote was not to adopt the impeachment resolution, but only to start or initiate the process to address "questions raised" and "clarify" a provision in the NMI Constitution referring to impeachment.

Deleon Guerrero was referring to Article 2 Section 8, which states, "The House of Representatives may initiate impeachment proceedings by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of its members and the Senate may convict after hearing by the affirmative vote of two-thirds of its members."

He said there is no question that once the resolution is on the floor for action, it will require two-thirds affirmative vote for the process to move to the Senate.

What raises concern is whether the "initiation" of such proceedings also needs two-thirds affirmative vote. To address that question, the House voted on a motion to initiate the process.

Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), chairman of the impeachment panel, made the motion to initiate proceedings, seconded by other members.

All the 19 House members present voted "yes" to initiate the proceedings, including four members of the minority bloc aligned with the governor or his Republican Party.

Only Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan) was absent; he was excused from the session.

Fitial, according to press secretary Angel Demapan, "respects that this issue is a function of the Legislature and he remains cognizant that the House is now controlled by the opposition who have repeatedly made known their intent to dispose of this item on their agenda."

"While the resolution has been referred to a special committee, the members of the House leadership have pretty much preconceived and declared their intent to pass the resolution and move the process up to the Senate. In view of this, the governor has no further comment to make at this point. Should the proceedings move up to the Senate, then it will be the appropriate time and forum for the governor to respond to the articles lodged against him," Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

House Resolution 18-2, sponsored by the 16 members of the House leadership, was pre-filed on the same day the 18th Legislature took their oath of office on Jan. 14.

The number of sponsors is more than the minimum 14 "yes" votes required in the 20-member House to move the process to the Senate. At least six "yes" votes in the nine-member Senate are needed to convict.

This is the second time in Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands history that an impeachment resolution has been introduced in the House.

Fitial is the subject of both impeachment bids in two consecutive years but the first one was shot down by his allies in the House during the previous Legislature.

Sablan said the special committee may hold its first official meeting on Thursday.

He and Deleon Guerrero asked all committee chairpersons to hold off acting on other measures until the impeachment panel has completed its work. They also asked impeachment panel members to participate in committee activities.

Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan) and Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan) separately said they will be diligent in attending the committee meetings.

Besides Sablan, Dela Cruz and Villagomez, the other committee members are Rep. Chris Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), House minority leader George Camacho (R-Saipan), Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), and Rep. Teresita Santos (R-Rota).

The House leadership said they are going to fulfill the "public mandate"-it said the public's message was that corruption, obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and the lack of transparency and accountability will not be tolerated.

The allegations against Fitial include his failure to timely appoint a chief justice, members of boards and commissions and Cabinet members; the use of a federal inmate temporarily taken out of prison to give him a massage during the wee hours in January 2010; no-bid award of an almost $400,000 ARRA management contract to a former Cabinet official within days of resignation in 2010; failure to remove a former attorney general after it became clear that the AG used public funds and other resources for a political campaign or gathering; ordering or conspiring to use armed police and ports police officers to shield the former AG from being served a penal summons in connection with criminal charges filed against him; and the signing of a 25-year, $190.8-million power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC.

Of the 18 allegations in H.R. 18-2, nine are for neglect, five for corruption, and four for commission of a felony.

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