Governor asks Senate to process DE chief’s appointment. Everybody has an opinion.
By Elsa Velázquez Santiago
Special to The Star
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Tuesday that he is waiting for the island Senate to confirm Elba Aponte Santos as Education secretary.
“I appointed her and she has to go through the confirmation process,” Pierluisi said in response to questions from the press. “What happened in the House happened in the House, but it is the Senate that has to pass judgment on her appointment. There are 27 senators who will vote for or against in due course and I hope that she will prevail in that process.”
Regarding the interpellation process in the House of Representatives last Thursday and the report that was filed from that process that recommends against the Senate confirming Aponte Santos’ appointment, the governor called the matter “unfortunate.”
“It was unfortunate what happened. The interpellation mechanism is extreme. The Legislative Assembly can certainly use it. It is provided in our Constitution, but it is used when you have exhausted other resources,” Pierluisi said. “There are committees with jurisdiction to deal with health matters, to deal with education matters, the committees hold public hearings, summon heads of agencies, make reports, make findings, make recommendations.”
“The interpellation, if it is justified, is when an agency head does not cooperate with the investigative committees, does not attend, does not answer questions, does not provide essential information before the [Legislative] Assembly, but that is when there is a pattern of conduct of that nature,” the governor added. “Well, what happened has already happened. Nobody looked good in that process and [neither was it] focused on what has to be done.”
Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed that only Justice Secretary-designate Domingo Emanuelli has delivered all his documents. The other nominees, including Aponte Santos, have not delivered the documents required for the confirmation process.
The House of Representatives earlier Tuesday presented a report on the interpellations involving the designated secretaries of Health and Education, Carlos Mellado López and Aponte Santos, respectively, in which it recommended hanging the appointment of the Education chief.
“Finally, we recommend Dr. Mellado López, that together with the House and the Senate, as well as the other dependencies of the Legislative Assembly, we collaborate in improving the protocols against COVID-19 to benefit the health of all,” said Rep. Sol Higgins, who chairs the lower chamber’s Health Committee.
For her part, House Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah Soto recommended to the Senate that Aponte Santos not be confirmed as secretary of Education.
“The report, it is important that we know that it also concludes that the designated secretary Elba Aponte Santos was evasive when answering questions from the representatives,” Soto said. “She did not present a concrete plan for the reopening of schools, she does not have a protocol to handle COVID-19 in school campuses and she did not explain to the House of Representatives, or to the country, how she will guarantee a healthy environment for our youth and children.”
“Due to all of the above and due to her questionable performance handling other matters in the Department of Education, we conclude in this report that the designee Elba Aponte Santos is not prepared to perform her duties as secretary of the Department of Education,” she added. “She conveys that she does not have the qualities that are needed to lead the Department of Education at times like these.”
Education chief reacts
Aponte Santos reacted via press release regarding the interpellation report of the House of Representatives by saying students cannot be held “hostage to political agendas.”
“I am focused on everything conducive to guaranteeing an adequate and safe education for our children and young people,” Aponte Santos said in the statement. “I am not surprised by the determination announced by several representatives prior to the extensive and hasty interpellation hearing.”
“My energies are going to be focused on getting the schools that are finally ready to open and that the children, young people and teachers go on -- gradually and voluntarily -- resuming the normality of their school life,” she said. “It is everyone’s responsibility, from the position we occupy, to be part of viable solutions and to have a spirit of collaboration for a better Puerto Rico. Our students cannot be hostages of political agendas. They have already suffered too much because of natural phenomena and the bureaucracy that we are trying to eliminate.”
For his part, Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago said the work of the appointed secretaries will be decisive in the confirmation process.
“The secretaries of the Departments of Education, Housing, Transportation and Public Works, and Health are officials who have to work,” Dalmau Santiago said in a written statement. “The Department of Health has a great responsibility with the monitoring of vaccinations and the Secretary of Education is in charge of the reopening of schools. … Without a doubt, the plans for the opening of the schools, as well as the execution and work of each of them in their agencies will be part of the evaluation in the confirmation process.”