WIL Castro, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres' chief of staff, appeared before the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations Friday to answer questions regarding some of the governor’s public expenditures.
These included a $189 bottle of Scotch whiskey that he supposedly received as a gift from the governor.
A former Guam senator, he answered all the questions pertaining to his official meetings with the governor and other CNMI officials from December 2017 to May 2019.
Aside from the committee chair, Rep. Celina Babauta, the other JGO members present were Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, Reps. Donald Manglona, Edwin Propst, Richard Lizama, Vicente Camacho and Tina Sablan who attended via video call while in quarantine.
When asked by Rep. Tina Sablan about the appreciation barbecue during which the then-Guam senator supposedly received a bottle of Scotch whiskey from the governor, Castro read a prepared statement:
“Yes, an appreciation BBQ was held at my personal residence on a weekend in the evening sometime in the Spring of 2019, closer to the end of January or first week of February. A statement to this effect was issued to Representative Sablan in July of 2020. I brought a hard copy of my email to the representative.
“The purpose of the gathering was "to thank all those on Guam who donated thousands of items to assist our CNMI familia in their recovery from Super Typhoon Yutu.
"As is custom in my family and for most CHamoru and most Pacific Island cultures, it is customary to bring something to a social gathering, in this case…food and refreshments. With that said, yes, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres was gracious enough to make an appearance and he did make a donation connected to this event. His donation was placed on a table in the open as were the other food and drinks.
"While the event was hosted at my private residence using private funds and not in my official capacity as a Guam senator at the time, I appreciated that the head of state, the governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, was present to convey a few words on behalf of a grateful community."
Castro said the governor addressed those who were present by extending his appreciation for all the donations to Tinian and Saipan. These included 50 portable stoves, 100 hammers, 5,000 nails, 250 pillows, 2,000 blankets, sanitary items for women and children, small refrigerators and close to 80 monitors for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.
"Please excuse me if some of the numbers may be a bit off, it’s been a couple years. The point is that we gave freely and in a very big way as part of our love for Our Marianas," Castro said.
He said the first of these items were transported on three small boats to Tinian just days after Yutu passed through the south side of Saipan and over Tinian.
“I know because I was on that…voyage in typhoon-condition waters. We had 13 boats committed, but because of the conditions we were fortunate to have even three come out and help. The largest of the load came in one or two shipping containers. We did this at no cost to the people of the Commonwealth, but at great personal risk to life and definitely shared expense. But I and countless others will gladly do it again to support our brothers and sisters in the Northern Mariana Islands," Castro said.
He added that he has hosted many CNMI residents at his home over the years “as part of a delegation of lawmakers, residents temporarily living on Guam for school or medical referral purposes, visiting cultural artists, musicians, and government professionals on joint training exercises. I do this as some of you have for me, in goodwill, so that we may further our mutual interests while [addressing] our mutual concerns for a stronger Marianas."
Marianas working group
The House committee then showed Castro copies of travel authorizations and the governor's request for reimbursements as well as receipts for expenses incurred during travels and meetings on Guam, including travels made on Department of Public Safety boats.
Asked by Rep. Donald Manglona about the meetings for which the governor traveled to Guam in 2017, Castro talked at length about the Marianas working group composed of officials from Guam and the CNMI.
He said the late Rep. Ivan Blanco took part in conceptualizing the Marianas working group with Rep. Edwin Propst also playing a key role in its formation.
Castro said the working group was part of a non-binding agreement between Gov. Torres and then-Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo. Several lawmakers of Guam and the CNMI were part of the working group, he added.
He said there were about "three [dozen] meetings" conducted to discuss several topics of common interests. These included a One Marianas Free Trade Zone, and a food security and bilateral agreement recognizing Guam and CNMI-based companies as domestic entities.
Castro said he saw first lady Diann T. Torres in many of these meetings, adding that he will submit a list of the meetings that the governor attended on Guam as soon as he obtains them.
Rep. Richard Lizama asked Castro about the purchases that the governor made at Home Depot for which the governor was reimbursed. Among the items that were bought were a wheelbarrow and other yard maintenance equipment and supplies like a chainsaw. These purchases were made during the governor's travel to Guam to attend a Veterans Day ceremony there and were not included in the governor's office inventory, Lizama said.
Lizama asked if he, Castro, went with the governor to Home Depot. “I find it highly unlikely to be at Home Depot if I was at the Veterans Day ceremony," Castro replied.
The committee also showed Castro a copy of the receipt for the $189 Scotch whiskey that was served during a non-official gathering at his residence in the latter part of January 2019.
Castro said he did not personally receive a bottle of Scotch whiskey, adding that he would have remembered that if he did.
He said he recalled seeing bottles of Scotch on a table, but to the best of his recollection, he doesn't recall standing up and receiving gifts while shaking hands with the governor.
He said he knew the governor “contributed something, but I don't recall the…governor handing me a bottle of Scotch."
Rep. Tina Sablan thanked Castro for his effort in providing relief goods to the CNMI after Super Typhoon Yutu struck Tinian and Saipan.
For his part, Castro thanked the committee for giving him the opportunity to clarify things.
He was then dismissed by House JGO Chair Celina Babauta who noted that the proceedings went smoothly as she thanked Castro for appearing without an attorney.