By Johnnie Rosario
(Tumon, Guam) The drive to begin an official investigation into public corruption by Gov. Ralph Torres gained steam today during a meeting of the Commonwealth House Ways and Means committee. In a way, an inquiry already has begun.
Members of the House's Republican majority and Independent minority may not have agreed on the process leading to an investigation, but they did agree to take investigative steps toward validating public documents that show Mr. Torres, his wife, and other government officials had conspired to break Commonwealth finance and travel laws.
The committee, chaired by Congressman Ivan Blanco, agreed to officially inquire about several documents presented by Congresswoman Tina Sablan, and the status of disbursements made to Mr. Torres for illegal reimbursements.
Ms. Sablan asked the committee to begin an inquiry and to expand the scope of the committee's investigation beyond the documents already appended to the House's journal. She said, and legislative legal counsel agreed, that the committee had that power.
Congressman Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero, however, insisted repeatedly that the committee not entertain documents that had not first been introduced through a session of the House and referred by Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao. Committee member and floor leader John Paul Sablan brokered a compromise by working with the Speaker's Office to place the additional documents submitted by Ms. Sablan on the House's next session agenda, which takes place December 20.
Mr. Blanco agreed.
These significant movements by the powerful floor leader and the Ways and Means chairman are the first signs from the Republican majority of a willingness to investigate the governor's conduct.
Congressman Donald Manglona, a member of the committee and the Independent minority, along with Ms. Sablan and the four other members of the minority, was a signatory of the original request for an investigation into the governor. He lent his support to the opening of the inquiry.
Mr. Blanco and Mr. Sablan were not the only Republicans to open up to the idea of an investigation. Congressman Ralph Yumul spoke to the merits of the documents, pointing out that on one BestBuy receipt turned in by Mr. Torres for reimbursement, the accounts through which the reimbursements would be made did not match. He said there are questions the committee must ask of the Department of Finance that the people of the Commonwealth want answers to.
Mr. Blanco agreed, pointing out that when Mr. Torres was a member of the House, then the Senate, then lieutenant governor, there were forms he filled out for official representation reimbursements that it seems he did not fill out as the governor.
The openness of members of the Republican majority to go up this path is significant and, historically, telling. Of the six current House members who voted for the impeachment of former Gov. Benigno Fitial, Congressman Edmund Villagomez with the Republican minority had been the only one of them to openly support an investigation.
Mr. Sablan and Mr. Yumul add to the count. For Mr. Sablan, this is a particularly courageous step, considering the personal risks he faces by giving any impression that he will not stand in the way of an investigation.
Mr. Yumul's family faces its own hazards, as they do business in the Commonwealth and, ostensibly, with the Capitol Hill power brokers who would become the targets of investigation.
The other three current members who voted in 2013 to impeach Mr. Fitial are Mr. Deleon Guerrero, Congressman Roman Benavente (who was present at today's committee meeting), and Congresswoman Janet Maratita.