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EDITORIAL: The march against corruption

By Troy Torres

The tempers seething from public contempt against corrupt officials throughout the Marianas are not matching the lackadaisical, near silence of elected officers to hold the corrupt accountable. And then there's the loyal opposition.

The opposition to the corruption on pure display by the administrations of Gov. Ralph Torres and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is described as such, not for their loyalty to any political party, but to an unorganized political movement against corruption, nepotism, greed, and infidelity to the public trust. The loyal opposition is loyal to the people who are pissed about flagrant wrong doing.

Since March, Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas and Commonwealth Congressman Gregorio "Kilili" Sablan managed to secure for the Marianas more federal funding than their predecessors combined. For the first time, our peoples will be paid unemployment assistance. There is the growing possibility that Congress may reimburse Guam for its payment of the earned income credit, a reimbursement that essentially would end the structural imbalance of the General Fund.

What did our governors do with these opportunities? First, both Ms. Leon Guerrero and Mr. Torres not only refused to lend a hand to help Team Marianas in the federal government, they openly opposed our congressmen. Then they took the money and ran. Has anyone seen an unemployment check? Who's still waiting for an economic impact payment? How about your tax refund? The governments of our islands are flush with cash, and you know who the record says is being paid? That's right; contractors, many of whom are very much connected to both administrations.

Of the $53 million in direct aid given to the Torres administration, every single cent went to contractors. Of that amount, the Torres administration paid $11 million total for personal protective equipment. That is $183.33 worth of face masks and hand sanitizers for every resident of the Commonwealth. Who received $183.33 worth of face masks and hand sanitizers from the Commonwealth government? Did it come in gift baskets with crepe paper and ribbons, and was it dropped at every door step?

The Leon Guerrero administration received nearly $117 million in direct aid from the fruits of Mr. San Nicolas and Mr. Sablan's efforts. Ms. Leon Guerrero quickly took the credit and decided to Santa Claus certain government offices with high-powered expensive computers, designer-brand laptop bags, and even vacations for her staff and cabinet members to hotel stays in penthouses.

Her son in law and legal counsel obligated taxpayers to spend millions of dollars to pay hotels he had chosen as quarantine and isolation quarters for incoming travelers and returning residents. One of those hotels has a $32 million mortgage with the bank his mother in law owns. The documents designating those hotels are clouded by a forgery scandal.

So far, senators have held one oversight hearing and failed to bring before them the one person on Adelup's staff who can provide answers to the designation documents.

Ms. Leon Guerrero whines self righteously against protests of her cavalier resentment of transparency with her indignant exclamation, "I am, we are transparent!" But where is her director of communications, Janela Carrera, when she's not muting reporters?

Even prior to this pandemic, evidence of the corruption of the Leon Guerrero administration has surfaced and has called upon senators, Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz, and Attorney General Leevin Camacho to act. Documents clearly show the doctoring of records so that Ms. Carrera could be paid for two vacations, where she did not have enough annual leave hours to take. In front of the cameras, Ms. Leon Guerrero signed over tens of millions of dollars in bond funding into the bank her son runs. She signed the documents directly to her son as the attorney general watched. She has refused to answer why she forgave millions of dollars in taxes owed by two of her cronies. And her administration won't even talk about Guam Regional Medical City's seeming violation of its qualifying certificate.

No one locally is acting. Pure silence.

Mr. San Nicolas - no longer a senator with oversight authority - has used his position to express his outrage about these scandals. So have Senators Jim Moylan, Telo Taitague, and Therese Terlaje. What has this earned them? Those three senators have been ostracized from the political circles of power, and often publicly ridiculed by the governor and even by some of their colleagues. For Mr. San Nicolas, the administration has mounted a full offensive, using political operatives to slander him with claims the Office of Congressional Ethics has found no evidence but testimony of the accuser to substantiate. That's what happens when you fight the good fight against of political power: they'll rip at you personally and forcefully.

Meanwhile, the rest of Guam suffers through a non-responsive government in the midst of crisis and a tax burden the governor has acclimated her spending habits of political patronage to.

In Saipan the corruption has mixed with the humidity to overheat the situation families find themselves suffering through. The federal raids and investigation that began late last year speak for itself. But then came the revelations of Mr. Torres's personal spending habits on Commonwealth dime. Then the connections between public officials and contractors that had benefited each other using public money. Then the use of monthly allowances of public money that most Republican legislators refuse to disclose. Then the systematic killing off of the Public School System. Then the revelation of a damning FinCEN report against the casino.

None of these revelations have seemed to stop the impunity of the Torres administration. As residents have suffered through his gross mismanagement of the public treasury, he has been awarding his cabinet with double pay overtime during this crisis. His people even had the audacity to suggest that their effort was a "labor of love." It's like he doesn't care.

But the Commonwealth has a united and loyal opposition rooted in a singular quest against corruption. The members of the legislative independent minority - a very small minority - Sen. Paul Manglona, and Representatives Ed Propst, Tina Sablan, Donald Manglona, Richard Lizama, Sheila Babauta, and Edmund Villagomez - have been loud; very loud. At every turn and to their political and personal peril they have stood up, questioned, demanded answers. Because of their super minority status, they have often times been pushes aside and ignored.

They have been attacked by Mr. Torres's political operatives at every step, and in very personal ways. Republican Representative Ralph Yumul, who has oversight in the House of the gaming industry, has become more vocal. What peril awaits him?

But it isn't just legislators taking a stand. Three members of the Commission on Education defied the governor and sued him for what the public school children of the Northern Mariana Islands are constitutionally entitled to.

Where is the demand for answers and truth on Guam? Where is the passion for justice and fealty to the public? Where is the outrage over the illegal actions of the Leon Guerrero administration, committed with impunity in front of our eyes and half-hearted monologues of political jargon.

Where is the Republican Party of Guam?

And we're not just talking about the statement here and there that, granted, the Guam GOP has issued in circumstances fitting the media narrative of the day. We're talking about a sincere, driven, and sustained effort to stalk for the truth. We're talking about a public debate on the floor of the Legislature and before the media from elected and party officials that is louder than the foot steps and screams of protestors.

'We've had enough,' is a mantra from the grass roots that should be resonating in the halls of decision makers and translating into organized efforts toward accountability and, dare we say it, jail time for the corrupt. And it's not because we will enjoy the suffering of those public officials who have done wrong against the people, it is to remove them from the power they have used to hurt so many people for such a long time already.

People power admittedly speaks to the involvement and cry of the masses, but it also points to the failure of elected officials to hold office with integrity and competence.

Rise up, Marianas. Prop up the loyal opposition, so that the other elected officials may do their jobs and cull our governments of the corrupt. If they won't do that, then we have to cull them ourselves in November.

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