The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday voted four to three to acquit Republican Governor Ralph Torres of all the charges filed against him by the Democrat-Independent-led House of Representatives in six articles of impeachment.
At least six of the nine senators must vote to convict the governor in order to remove him from office.
House Resolution 22-14 accused the governor of corruption, neglect of duty and felonies of theft as well as contempt. He has denied the allegations.
Voting for acquittal were Senate President Jude Hofschneider, R-Tinian; Senators Victor Hocog, R-Rota; Frank Cruz, R-Tinian; and Karl King-Nabors, R-Tinian.
Voting for conviction were the minority bloc senators: Edith Deleon Guerrero, D-Saipan; Paul A. Manglona, Ind,-Rota; and Teresita Santos, Ind.-Rota.
Senate Vice President Justo Quitugua, R-Saipan, and Senate Floor Leader VinnieSablan, R-Saipan, recused themselves from the proceedings, citing conflict of interest. Quitugua is a relative of the governor while Sablan is his running mate.
The Senate impeachment trial was the first in CNMI history. Governor Benigno Fitial was impeached by the House in February 2013, but he resigned before the Senate could hold a trial.
In the Senate impeachment hearing for Governor Torres, there was no prosecutor because the House leadership had refused to participate under the Senate impeachment rules they said were unfair.
Senator Manglona and two Saipan residents, Carmen Patricia Deleon Guerrero and Bruce Lee Jorgensen, last week asked the Superior Court to invalidate the Senate impeachment rules and stop the Senate impeachment hearing.
But as of press time Wednesday evening, there was no court announcement regarding their request for a temporary restraining order.
“Does clear and convincing evidence exist to sustain [this] article of impeachment against Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres to remove him from the Office of the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands?”
Senate President Hofschneider asked before the senators voted on each of the following articles of impeachment:
Article I – Commission of felony, theft of utility services
Article II – Commission of felony, theft
Article III – Corruption, unlawful first-class and business-class travel
Article IV – Corruption, misuse of government resources
Article V – Neglect of duty, negligence during crisis
Article VI – Neglect of duty, contempt
The vote on each article was four for acquittal and three for conviction.
“With Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres’ acquittal of all six articles of impeachment, this concludes the Senate’s review of House Resolution 22-14 on the articles of impeachment,” the Senate president said.
“The impeachment proceedings of Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres are hereby closed, and the Senate, as an impeachment tribunal, is hereby adjourned sine die.”
Asked for comment, Office of the Governor legal counsel Gilbert J. Birnbrich said, “I’m just very happy. It was a good result.”
In a statement, the governor said:
“I would like to personally thank all the people who took the time to display their support, encouragement, love, and prayers. Most importantly, I want to thank them for their continued belief in my Administration.
“I also want to thank the Senate for reviewing the factual information presented by my attorneys and the witnesses who provided testimony, for their diligence throughout the impeachment proceeding and entire process, and for making informed decisions.
“I am thankful that we can now move forward, and I can continue to work hard for the people of the Commonwealth.”
He also commended his legal team, which was led by attorney Anthony H. Aguon, for ably representing him during the proceedings.
Prior to the Senate vote on the articles of impeachment, members of the public were allowed to air their comments.
Fabian M. Indalecio, a vocal critic of Torres, said many community members have “suffered and are suffering at the hands of a corrupted governor.”
“Let’s take back our government,” he said.
Democrat Rep Edwin Propst, for his part, called on the senators to uphold CNMI law.
“Governor Torres failed to appear as subpoenaed. The subpoena was valid. He is in contempt. It is really that simple. Senators, if you do not vote to convict on Article VI, you would be ignoring this law. The people of the Commonwealth are watching. They’re waiting to see if you’ll honor the trust they have placed in you. Will you uphold the law or will you place the political interests of Governor Torres above our Constitution?” Propst asked.
The governor’s brother, attorney Vincent DLG Torres, said the governor has never neglected his duties to the people of the CNMI.
“If there is another pandemic or disaster, life-threatening ones that will hit the CNMI, our islands, what kind of governor would you want to lead us: a governor that sits in the comfort of his or her home, or a governor that goes out and risks his life to help his people?”
The senators were also allowed to comment prior to the start of the vote.
The three minority bloc senators — Deleon Guerrero, Santos and Manglona — reiterated their opposition to the “unfair” Senate rules and proceedings.
“This is not justice, but corruption,” Deleon Guerrero said.
The trial was “ludicrous,” “disturbing,” “lopsided,” “seriously flawed,” and “tainted,” Santos said.
“All our people are asking for is justice. I know we can do better,” Manglona said.
Senator King-Nabors said the Senate minority bloc and the House leadership do not seem to comprehend the Senate impeachment rules.
He said if the House leadership had spent a sufficient amount of time going over the Senate impeachment rules, the trial would not be what it was today.
“The burden of proof has not been met,” King-Nabors said.
Senator Cruz said despite the House leadership stating that it had accumulated 8,000 pages of evidence over a two-year period of investigation into the governor’s expenditures, they still failed to present their case before the Senate.
“Nobody wants to present their case. What’s going on?” he asked.
“I wish the House…even [just] one [member was here to] present their case. If they have 8,000 [pages of] evidence, then they should be confident.”
He added, “They can come here and do public comment but they can’t event present their case.”
He noted that the CNMI has two separate legislative houses. “We have our own separate rules. Don’t tell me that the House can tell us how to draft [our] rules. They have to respect the Senate because we respect them. Although we see some unfairness that they’re doing during their investigation…we never intervened…because that’s their job…. Follow the rules, said Cruz.
SOURCE: MARIANAS VARIETY/PACNEWS