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All Impeachment Articles Against NMI Governor Approved
Full House may vote on resolution by end of next week

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 31, 2013) – A special committee reviewing a resolution impeaching Northern Marianas Governor Benigno R. Fitial approved the rest of the 18 allegations of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony at 4:22pm yesterday, and a full House of Representatives vote is expected next week.

The Special Investigating Committee on Impeachment chaired by Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan) adopted eight articles yesterday.

"With all the 18 articles adopted by the committee, we're looking at giving one day for the Legislative Bureau to work on the report and one day for committee members to review the report before presenting it to the speaker. So we might have a full House vote by Thursday or Friday next week," Sablan said in an interview after the committee wrapped up its deliberations yesterday.

He said it is important that the House presents a product that will be used as evidence once the impeachment process moves to the Senate for trial.

All the 16 House leadership members signed as co-sponsors of the impeachment resolution, more than enough to impeach the governor.

Only at least 14 "yes" votes are needed in the 20-member House to elevate the impeachment process to the Senate.

At yesterday's meeting that started past 1:30pm, the committee deliberated first on Article 15, a neglect of duty charge that they amended. This article is related to the governor's failure to appoint a Department of Public Safety commissioner for Senate confirmation beginning on or about April 26, 2012. until the pre-filing of House Resolution 18-2 on Jan. 14, 2013.

By a vote of 5-0, Article 15, as amended, was adopted at 2:04pm.

The rest of the articles were adopted by a vote of 5-0 each.

Those voting yes to each of the eight articles yesterday were committee chair Sablan, Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Rep. Cris Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan).

The four-member House minority bloc didn't replace Reps. Felicidad Ogumor (R-Saipan) and Teresita Santos (R-Rota) on the impeachment committee.

Article 12, a neglect of duty charge, was adopted at 2:33pm. This is related to the governor's failure to nominate members to serve on the Civil Service Commission from March 2006 to July 2012, in violation of the CNMI Constitution.

Next to be acted on was Article 13, also a neglect of duty charge, related to the governor's failure to appoint members to the Public Utilities Commission.

At 2:39pm, the panel also adopted Article 14, also a neglect of duty charge, for the governor's failure to appoint a CNMI Supreme Court justice on or about October 2011 until the pre-filing of the impeachment resolution on Jan. 14.

Members discussed at length Article 9, a corruption charge, related to the governor's signing of a no-bid $190.8 million power purchase agreement for 25 years.

Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan) said the governor "admitted he made mistakes" related to the PPA during his recent State of the Commonwealth Address. He added that the governor said he had taken the advice of the former attorney general in signing the PPA.

"He signed off on the contract but he stated he's not at fault. He pointed at the former AG, now a fugitive. He's saying [former AG Edward Buckingham] was the culprit, that he made the governor sign it," Dela Cruz said.

During discussions, Dela Cruz also believes that the governor will defend himself on other charges by saying "it's not my fault."

Tebuteb, for his part, said "corruption shouldn't be tolerated."

The committee adopted this corruption article at 2:59pm.

Minutes later, the panel reviewed video footage related to former attorney general Buckingham's attempts to shield himself-with the help of police and ports police officers-from service of a penal summons related to criminal charges filed against him by the Office of the Public Auditor.

Rep. Cris Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan) said the "million words of the video" confirms the testimony of witnesses and documents presented by witnesses, supporting allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty related to the AG-airport matter.

The committee proceeded to vote on Article 11, 6, and 4. The last vote was at 4:22pm, when the panel adopted Article 4, a felony charge.

Fitial can be impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate on any one of the 18 articles of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.

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