Labor, community sectors push for passage of Dignified Retirement bill
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Members of the Pensions Defense Front (Frente de Defensa de las Pensiones, or FDP, in Spanish) along with other labor and community movements marched on Sunday to the north side of the Capitol in Puerta de Tierra to demand that the Legislative Assembly pass House Bill (HB) 120, the Law for a Dignified Retirement, which opposes any Debt Adjustment Plan that extends pension cuts as public policy in Puerto Rico.
Late in the morning, demonstrators began to gather and organize at Plaza Colón in Old San Juan with picket signs, banners and pots and pans to call on lawmakers to pass the bill that seeks to establish public pensions as essential services.
For Construyamos Otro Acuerdo (Let’s Build Another Agreement) spokesperson Sonia Palacios de Miranda, voting for HB 120 would allow the Legislature to “establish what the government’s priorities should be.”
“Those priorities should be to maintain essential services, protect the country and the University of Puerto Rico, and to not increase taxes anymore because it represents a burden for the people,” Palacios de Miranda said.
HB 120 passed unanimously in the House of Representatives for a second time and currently sits in the Puerto Rico Senate. The bill would also establish a Retirement Systems Joint Administration Trust that would consolidate the resources and obligations of the Puerto Rico Government Employees Retirement System, the Judiciary Retirement System, and the Puerto Rico Teachers Retirement System.
Palacios de Miranda said that both the Finance, Federal Affairs and Fiscal Oversight and Management Board Committee, led by Sen. Juan Zaragoza, and the Human Rights and Labor Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, have committed to submitting a positive opinion on the bill.
The federal Financial Oversight and Management Board, meanwhile, is putting pressure on the island Legislature to shelve HB 120, claiming that passing the legislation would bring more budget cuts and dismissals in the public sector. Palacios de Miranda told the STAR that the oversight board is trying to divide opinion on the island by implying that protecting public pensions would come at a great cost to Puerto Rico.
“There’s one thing I would like to say to the oversight board: Don’t threaten us because you’re on your way out,” Palacios de Miranda said. “What we want is to unite the country and tell [the oversight board] that another way of governing is possible, that another way of taking care of essential services is possible, and that the people come before the [fiscal] debt.”
When asked if Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia is expected to sign the bill, she said the governor “speaks with forked tongue.”
“When we asked the question ‘When are you going to meet with us [retirees]?’ on a television program, he said: ‘Of course, I will be meeting with you,’” Palacios de Miranda said. “We’re still waiting for him.”
Meanwhile, FDP spokesperson Pedro Pastrana told the STAR that he is hopeful HB 120 will pass “unanimously and without substantial amendments that affect the bill.”
“After that, we expect to continue our lobbying efforts with La Fortaleza, as it is another space that we must occupy in order to turn this bill into a real thing and for the government to finally fulfill its constitutional duty of defending the island’s essential services and pensions, instead of defending bondholders,” Pastrana said.
Later in the afternoon, organizations such as the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation, the Puerto Rico University Professors Association, Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, Colectivo Somos Más que 100 x 35, and the Boricua Artists Meeting marched to the Capitol to demand the approval of HB 120.
The demonstrators’ other demands included that the government repeal LUMA Energy’s contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, that no more budget cuts to the University of Puerto Rico be allowed, that a hospital be built in Vieques, improvement of the maritime transportation system for the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, and the promotion of a better quality of life for all residents no matter their race, gender identity or sexual orientation.