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    Saturday, May 25, 2019-9:19:14A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Senator Reyes, Larry Cabrera urge retirees to sign petition

A PETITION was drafted to inform District Court for the NMI designated Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood that some retirees feel they are not a party to Betty Johnson’s class-action lawsuit.

At last night’s meeting of the Commonwealth Retirement Association, CRA Chairman Larry Cabrera invited Senator Pete Reyes with whom he collaborated in drafting a petition to be delivered to the court.

Pete Reyes
Reyes said, “This petition is to inform the judge that when this lawsuit was filed, it was filed by Betty Johnson.”

He said retirees were not part of this class action and did not consent to the agreement.

Reyes said many have remained quiet on the issue.

He asked the retirees to speak up and let their voices be heard.

“I feel the court should consider that we are not a party to the lawsuit. We have the right to decide for ourselves whether we want to be a party to this lawsuit or not,” said Reyes.

Reyes explained that he is not “challenging the settlement agreement.”

He also said that he is “not saying the settlement is bad.”

“This is not the intention of the petition,” he said.

Retiree Calistro Reyes told Senator Reyes that the petition might be a little late.

“The ship has left,” said Calistro Reyes alluding to the agreement that is on its way to being approved.

He cast doubts on the proposed action.

“How can we see to it that whoever is steering the ship will take us to the destination that we want. We are in a mess senator,” he said.

He said his wife managed to withdraw her contributions.

Reyes was referring to the $10 million initially disbursed upon preliminary approval of the settlement agreement on Aug. 7.

“All she wanted was every penny of her own contributions. That is all. God help us,” said Reyes.

Senator Reyes, in response to a retiree’s question on what the lawmakers had done, said they objected to having a trustee ad litem as they wanted to reconstitute the Retirement Fund board.

“I was fired from a committee because I was very vocal about making sure that the three trustees appointed by the governor were confirmed. They were not confirmed,” he said.

He said on Capital Hill it was always a question of the numbers game.

He said one person trying to make a difference is not enough.

As to the settlement agreement, he said the lawmakers were not a party to the negotiations.

However it was decided, Reyes said they were not included in the negotiations.

“I understand that the ship has already left. But what we’re trying to do is to make sure that those on the ship will not drown…we’ll keep them safe if we can,” said Reyes.

Members of the Commonwealth Retirement Association listen to Sen. Pete Reyes talk about the draft petition on the settlement agreement at last night’s meeting at the multi-purpose center in Susupe.  Photo by Alexie Villegas ZotomayorMembers of the Commonwealth Retirement Association listen to Sen. Pete Reyes talk about the draft petition on the settlement agreement at last night’s meeting at the multi-purpose center in Susupe. Photo by Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

Retiree Vicente N. Santos could not agree more with Senator Reyes as he expressed his intention to join them in signing the petition.

“I support you. It is better to do something,” he said.

Santos said it should be a learning experience for everybody.

He said even if it is late, “We must try.”

Santos said the Retirement Fund situation should be considered a good lesson for them, and for their leaders.

He said the people should choose leaders who are knowledgeable and those who hold key positions should be educated.

CRA Director Diego T. Benevante said, “I would like for us to stop pointing fingers.”

He said they should start focusing on what can be done.

He said there was a point when the government had a budget of of $240 million and revenues were good.

“Just two years ago, we had our lowest budget of $114 million,” he said.

He explained that it was not a question of the government not wanting to pay, but it was in a bind and could not compromise on the delivery of critical public services.

He acknowledged that in order to assure that the government could continue to deliver these services, he voted for the contribution holiday.

“If the federal court didn’t do anything, we wouldn’t have had any money by June 2014. It was supposed to go broke,” said Benavente.

In conversations with other retirees, Benavente said most prefer to get 75 percent of their benefits rather than nothing.

He said he could still work if he received a lesser pension and make up for the 25 percent deferred benefits. But there are retirees who can barely survive on their full pension.

“This settlement agreement is made so that all the retirees will continue to get 75 percent [of benefits] for years to come,” he said.

He said the agreement forces the government to pay.

“The CNMI government finally through the authority of the federal courts is forced to pay,” he said.

He said for most retirees, getting 75 percent of benefits is better than “going broke in 2014.”

What we can do for our retirees is tell our elected officials that we expect them to make up for that 25 percent.

He said the government should do this at least for the less fortunate ones, “those who are barely survi­ving on less than $12,000 a year.”

Benavente was referring to the Administration’s plan to set up a recovery account where proceeds from the revenue-generating initiatives will go to pay back the 25 percent deferred benefits.

He told his fellow retirees that the best they can do is continue lobbying their leaders to make good on their promises — for them to keep making the payments.

The court has scheduled a hearing for the final approval of the settlement agreement on Monday.

If the agreement is approved, retirees will received their first reduced paycheck on Oct. 15.

The Fund will transfer all its assets to the Settlement Fund which will pay benefits with a settlement trustee at the helm.

Civille & Tang PLLC will no longer be the trustee ad litem but it will be serving as the Settlement Trustee with Attorney Joyce C.H. Tang as principal representative.