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NMI Impeachment Panel Loses Last Minority Bloc Member
Felicidad Ogumoro says she will pick up when full House meets

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 30, 2013) – The House special committee reviewing the articles of impeachment against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has run out of minority bloc members after Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro withdrew from the panel.

Ogumoro drafted her resignation letter on Monday but she submitted it to panel chairman Rep. Tony P. Sablan on Tuesday, saying she was quitting effective immediately.

She told Sablan that "my work on [the impeachment resolution] H.R. 18-2 will resume when the full House meets to act on [it]."

Ogumoro, one of the governor’s four allies in the 20-seat House of Representatives, did not attend the hearing on Monday when fellow minority bloc member Rep. Teresita A. Santos submitted her own letter of resignation.

In an interview on Tuesday, Sablan noted that House Minority Leader George N. Camacho declined to join the panel in the previous Legislature because Camacho’s brother, Judge Joseph N. Camacho, is involved in one of the articles of impeachment.

Sablan said Rep. Richard B. Seman is now the only minority bloc member who can be part of the impeachment committee.

"But if no one from the minority bloc is willing to become a member we just have to proceed," Sablan said.

The important thing to remember, he added, is that the minority bloc was given the opportunity to join the committee and participate in the impeachment proceedings.

The minority bloc members, he added, should be mindful of their responsibilities as lawmakers. "They all should fully understand what their obligations are," Sablan said.

He said a minority bloc member should remain on the panel to provide an opposing perspective on the impeachment articles.

"But if a member refuses to be part of the committee, there is no sense trying to force him or her," he added.

Sablan does not want to speculate about what prompted Ogumoro to withdraw from the panel, but he noted that the governor himself in his recent State of the Commonwealth Address admitted his fault in the no-bid $190 million power purchase agreement.

This, Sablan said, has left the pro-administration House members with no way to defend the governor from the articles of impeachment pertaining to the controversial power deal.

During the impeachment hearing in the 17th Legislature, Ogumoro blamed the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. for "not stopping" the governor from signing the contract. CUC acting Executive Director Alan Fletcher reminded her that he couldn’t tell the governor what to do, and that the agreement with Saipan Development LLC was already signed before Fitial asked CUC to "review" it.

For his part, Vice Speaker Francisco S. Dela Cruz does not think that the withdrawal of Ogumoro and Santos from the impeachment hearings will affect the proceedings. He said they will still have a quorum and will work on each of the 18 articles of impeachment "expeditiously and diligently."

Three more allegations adopted

Also on Tuesday, the impeachment panel approved, by a 5-0 vote, three more articles of impeachment against Fitial:

  • Article 10 which accuses the governor of neglect of duty for not "imposing employment sanctions or otherwise disciplining" then-Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham who violated the Hatch Act. This pertains to the partisan meet-and-greet gathering that Buckingham hosted at the governor’s house in December 2010.
  • Articles 17 and 18 pertaining to the governor’s failure to appoint secretaries of the Departments of Public Lands and Public Works for a significant period of time.

The panel has already approved 10 articles of impeachment and is expected to finish reviewing the eight remaining articles later this week.

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