CNMI Governor is not resigning, looks forward to a fair Senate trial

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“I am not resigning,” CNMI Governor Ralph Torres said on Tuesday.

“The issue between former Governor [Benigno R.] Fitial and myself is totally different,” he added during a media briefing on KKMP radio.

In February 2013, Fitial became the CNMI’s first governor to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He resigned before the Senate could hold a trial.

Torres acknowledged that his political opponents have the number to pass the impeachment resolution in the 20-seat House, but he reiterated that he is not guilty of the allegations of corruption, neglect of duty and felonies of theft.

He is also hoping that the Senate will conduct a fair trial.

If six of the nine senators vote for his conviction, Torres will be removed from office.

“I am confident that the proceeding will not go further,” Torres said, referring to the looming trial in the Senate. Unlike the Democrat-led House, the Senate is controlled by the governor’s fellow Republicans.

Torres said there are many issues that certain members of the House do not want to acknowledge because of their own political agenda.

“For example, [Democrat Rep.] Tina Sablan is running for governor…so she has a motive to ensure that she will try everything she can to remove me [from office] because that will mean one less opponent,” Torres said.

“If someone has charged…you for beating up [someone] should you be sitting [on the House investigation] panel?” he added, referring to Rep. Vicente Camacho.

He said he is hoping that the House Special Committee on Impeachment will have members who will look at the facts with fairness.

The House Democrat-independent bloc has 11 members while the group supporting the gubernatorial candidacy of Lieutenant Governor Arnold Palacios has four members.

At least 14 members of the House are needed to approve the impeachment resolution.

Torres said whatever the outcome of the process, he is still willing to work with the Legislature. “There’s a lot of issues that need to be addressed. I don’t hold grudges, and we need to move forward.”

Asked about the inclusion of House sergeant-at-arms Pedro Towai in his official capacity as a defendant in the lawsuit the governor’s lawyers filed on his behalf against the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations, Torres replied, “I would like to say, for the record, that his name should not [have been] included.”

He said his lawsuit is asking the judiciary to resolve a dispute between the executive and legislative branches.

“Any legislature who is not happy [with the governor] cannot just go ahead and subpoena the governor. Can [they also] go ahead and subpoena the Supreme Court chief justice or any of the judges because [the Legislature] doesn’t like who they are?”

Torres said the Democrat-led House JGO is asserting an unconstitutional dominance over a separate and co-equal branch of government.

Meanwhile, Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez has appointed Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao as chairman of the special investigating committee on impeachment.

The members are Reps. Angel Demapan, Joseph Flores, Joseph Leepan Guerrero, Corina Magofna, Donald Manglona, Tina Sablan, Patrick San Nicolas and Leila Staffler.

In his memorandum on Tuesday, the speaker said the panel “shall be an investigatory committee… authorised by the House to issue subpoenas.”

He said the articles set forth in House Resolution 22-14, which calls for the impeachment of Republican Governor Ralph DLG Torres, “are a matter pending before the committee….”

Of the panel’s nine members, five have signed the impeachment resolution: Attao, Magofna, Manglona, Sablan and Staffler.

Speaker Villagomez said the committee has 30 days to submit written report on H.R. 22-14, unless the chair requests additional time.

“I urge this special investigative committee to promptly review the aforementioned [resolution],” the speaker added.

For his part, the governor’s legal counsel, Gil Birnbrich, is asking the speaker to create an impeachment committee that is “evenly divided” between Republicans and Democrats in the House, adding that it should not include anyone who is running for governor.

The impeachment committee, he added, “should be above reproach” given the significance of the potential removal of a governor elected by the people of the CNMI.

In addition, he said the committee “should not have among its members anyone…who has previously expressed an opinion on the guilt of the governor of the allegations asserted in the pending impeachment resolution.”

Birnbrich added, “The public should have confidence that the members of the committee, who are considering the removal of a governor chosen in an election, [are] not motivated by prejudice, bias or partisan considerations.”

Birnbrich said the House should also adopt “explicit rules” that will govern the impeachment process. These include the admission of evidence, the taking of testimony, and due process afforded to the governor, he added.

“Absent rules, the special committee will be making ad hoc decisions on these critical matters, which would undermine the public’s confidence in its legitimacy. In other jurisdictions, House committees evaluating the impeachment of governors have operated according to such rules,” Birnbrich said.

He provided the speaker with copies of the rules governing the House impeachment committees in Illinois and Connecticut.

“An impeachment process is a grave undertaking with implications for the entire government of CNMI and for the future of the Commonwealth. We hope to work cooperatively with you to ensure the process has the requisite reliability and dignity,” Birnbrich added.

SOURCE: CNMI/PACNEWS