CNMI Gov. Torres impeached for felonies and corruption
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The CNMI House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to impeach Republican Gov. Ralph Torres, who will face a Senate trial on charges of theft, corruption and neglect of duty.
House members voted 15-4 on each of the six articles of impeachment contained in Resolution 22-14, which will be transmitted to the Senate. Rep. Joe Flores, an independent who is aligned with the Republican Party, abstained from voting on all six articles.
The House’s vote makes Torres the second CNMI governor to face removal by the Senate. In 2013, Benigno Fitial was impeached by the House but he stepped down from office before the trial began.
Torres was accused of abusing public resources, lavish spending and making questionable trips among others.
“The governor claimed unfairness but he was given every opportunity to avail, under the protection of the law, answer the charges and state his position,” said Rep. Corina Magofna. “Yet he chose to defy the subpoena, and didn’t show up to clear his name.”
Rep. Tina Sablan, a gubernatorial aspirant, said thousands of documents reviewed by the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations revealed a “pattern of waste of public funds and abuse of power committed by the highest executive official of the land.”
“He committed these acts during the time when so many individuals were reeling from the impact of typhoon disasters,” Sablan said.
Rep. Celine Babauta, chair of JGO, said Torres has taken advantage of his privilege as the island’s chief executive to use free water at the expense of the commonwealth’s taxpayers,
The governor’s “excessive use” of water for his personal residence formed the theft charges contained in the first article of impeachment, which the House voted 15-4-1 to adopt.
At the Senate, Torres will be tried on felony charges listed under six articles of impeachment.
Article I: Commission of felony, theft of utility services. This item involved the $177,000 worth of utility bills, from February 2915 to August 2021, for water and power provided by Commonwealth Utilities Corp. to the governor's private residences and a commercial piggery operating on his residential property.
Article II: Commission of felony, theft: This article lists four charges that include Torres' first-class and business-class trip to Oregon, where he and first lady Diann Torres, attended a political event that cost the taxpayers $16,559.41.
Article III: Unlawful first-class and business-class travel. Among the many charges enumerated in this article was Torres' lavish one-night dinner with a Washington, DC lobbyist that cost taxpayers $1,823.90, and a single breakfast that cost more than $399.
Article IV: Corruption, misuse of government resources. In total, Torres took 120 trips during his six years in office. Charges under this article also included the governor's 85 boating trips, using the department of public safety’s resources The boating trips were for fishing or recreation with members of governor Torres' family, to the Northern Islands, Tinian, Rota, Managaha and Guam.
Article V: Neglect of duty, negligence during a crisis. In the summer of 2020, Torres embarked on a three-week fishing, hunting and promotional expedition to the Northern Islands with his family and friends, while the island's economy was reeling from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Article VI: Neglect of Duty, contempt of the legislature. This charge stemmed from Torres’ no-show at the JGO hearing, ignoring the subpeane issued by the committee that was investigating the corruption charges against him.,