Facing impeachment trial, CNMI governor resigns
In less than five hours yesterday, the CNMI saw the resignation of Benigno R. Fitial as governor and the swearing in of both former lieutenant governor Eloy S. Inos as the Commonwealth's eighth governor and former Senate president Jude U. Hofschneider as his lieutenant governor.
Like the impeachment, yesterday's turn of events was unprecedented in CNMI history.
“These are very difficult and trying times and it is time to move on,” Inos, 63, said in his five-minute inaugural speech at a packed Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe yesterday afternoon.
The change in leadership comes 15 days before Fitial was supposed to face trial at the Senate, at a time when tourism is on the uptick although the overall economy has yet to finally rise from its lowest ebb, coupled with troubled healthcare and pension systems.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro Castro administered the oath of office to Inos, while Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Naraja swore in Hofschneider in a solemn ceremony that took only a little over three hours to organize.
The inauguration, which lasted only 28 minutes, made Inos the first CNMI governor to come from Rota and Hofschneider the first lieutenant governor from Tinian. The House speaker and the new Senate president are from Saipan. Inos and Hofschneider are also both unmarried at this time.
Inos, a former Finance secretary, said there will be “no overnight fixes” but that his administration is committed to work with the CNMI's leaders and the people “to find sensible solutions” to critical issues such as the economy, healthcare, utilities, and the NMI Retirement Fund.
Hofschneider, 42, said in his two-minute inaugural speech, that he stands ready to assist Inos in addressing the challenges ahead.
“Now more than ever is the time for our three branches of government, our business community, and the people of our islands, to work together as we pave the way to a more successful and prosperous future,” he said.
Before taking his oath as lieutenant governor, Hofschneider held an emergency Senate session to, among other things, accept Fitial's last communication and bid his farewell to his colleagues he has worked for years. But he said the working partnership will continue.
Fitial personally handed his resignation letter to Inos at 9:40am yesterday, a day after he was served a writ of summons to appear before the Senate and answer the 18 articles of impeachment against him.
The 18th House of Representatives impeached Fitial on 18 charges of corruption, commission of felony, and neglect of duty. His impeachment trial at the Senate was supposed to start on March 7.
“Let me be clear. I am prepared to present an aggressive defense to the allegations forwarded to the Senate from the House of Representatives. None of the allegations in the House report is an impeachable offense,” Fitial said in a statement.
Fitial is the first governor in the CNMI and any U.S. insular area to be impeached.
His resignation-the first for any sitting governor in CNMI history-took effect at 10am yesterday.
Minutes after Fitial went to Inos' office, press secretary Angel Demapan hand-carried Fitial's resignation letters to the offices of House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), main author of the impeachment resolution, and Hofschneider.