PARE Committee member to governor: Demand funding for gender violence emergency decree

Keishla Marlen Rodríguez Ortiz y Andrea Ruiz Costas

Says development of gender violence prevention initiatives depends on it

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Referring to a gender violence emergency decree declared back on Jan. 25 by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to give priority to addressing and preventing all iterations of such violence in Puerto Rico, Irma Lugo Nazario, the coordinator for the Gender Equality Observatory (OEG by its Spanish initials), called on the governor Sunday to demand that the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board approve the allocation of more funds for the Committee for the Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education (PARE by its Spanish acronym) of Gender Violence.

Last Thursday the oversight board approved just $200,000 out of $7 million requested by the Pierluisi administration.

In an interview with the STAR, Lugo Nazario, who said the OEG is currently working on both the Statistics and Research and the Gender Perspective subcommittees, said much more funding is required in order for the PARE committee to conduct educational efforts through public sectors and allow transparency, access and accuracy with regard to gender violence statistics on the island.

“This is a project for the country. We need this money to attend to a public matter; that is why gender violence issues are worked upon from a public health perspective,” Lugo Nazario said. “This is not only a matter that’s addressed by the Puerto Rico Police [Bureau] and other public safety entities, because these entities react after a situation of violence occurs.”

The OEG coordinator made her call as the island reeled from the news that two women, 27-year-old Keishla Marlen Rodríguez Ortiz and 35-year-old Andrea Ruiz Costas, were found slain over the weekend.

In the Rodríguez Ortiz case, Forensic Science Institute (FSI) Executive Director María Conte Miller confirmed Sunday that the body found Saturday in the San José Lagoon, near the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge in Carolina, was hers.

Meanwhile, police also confiscated a black Dodge Durango, which allegedly belongs to boxer Félix Verdejo, who had a relationship with Rodríguez Ortiz for more than 11 years and who authorities claimed to be the last person she conversed with via phone on Thursday.

The vehicle was confiscated as authorities caught a similar automobile through recordings from the Teodoro Moscoso toll cameras on the same day Rodríguez Ortiz went missing and not far from the place where her body was found.

Also on Saturday, Bereliz Nichole Rodríguez, who is Rodríguez Ortiz’s sister, told members of the press outside the FSI headquarters that the body found was that of her sibling.

“We are five, five family members!” she said. “God bless you all, and thank you for your cooperation. Justice for Keishla!”

On Friday, Rodríguez Ortiz’s mother, Keila Ortiz Rivera, said the last time she spoke with her daughter was on Thursday, when Keishla told her that she was meeting with Verdejo to show her a positive pregnancy test.

Ortiz Rivera said she believes Verdejo is responsible for her daughter’s disappearance and alleged that he used threats in demanding that her daughter “abort” because the pregnancy would ruin his career and personal life.

Verdejo, meanwhile, was brought in for questioning on Thursday and Friday by Police Criminal Investigation Corps (CIC by its Spanish initials) officers.

Authorities reported afterwards that the boxer did not answer any questions on either occasion. He had two attorneys representing him on Friday, according to reports.

As for Ruiz Costas, Police Commissioner Antonio López confirmed on Saturday that Miguel Ocasio Santiago was arrested as he confessed to her killing.

Ruiz Costas’ partially burned body was found in the town of Cayey on Friday.

López said Ocasio Santiago admitted to having killed Ruiz Costas after she decided to end their relationship.

He was charged with murder, violations to the Puerto Rico Firearms Act, and tampering with evidence, while a $1.1 million bail was set.

Ocasio Santiago did not post the bail, and was transferred to a correctional facility.

On March 26, Ruiz Costas went to the Caguas Superior Court to denounce her then-boyfriend for domestic violence under Act 54 before Judge Ingrid Alvarado.

The victim also requested a protection order against Ocasio Santiago twice, but both requests were denied by Judge Alvarado based on a lack of cause.

The event led Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice Maité Oronoz Rodríguez to order an in-depth investigation into how gender violence cases are being handled in the island’s courts.

Lugo Nazario, the OEG coordinator, said meanwhile that the government “has to be more active and proactive” in publicizing the work carried out by the community organizations behind the PARE committee.

“We need to work from a prevention and education perspective, and I mean education in every space,” Lugo Nazario said. “The gender perspective within the education system is very important, but we must also educate from a social and community level; better yet, we must educate from a governmental level, where we can teach both municipal and state employees how to address this matter whether at their workplace or if they are currently victims of gender violence.”

She added that she is concerned about the gender violence issue as the OEG compiled two additional cases of missing women in March.

One of those cases is that of Lissette Reyes Vargas, a 45-year-old woman and resident of Ponce, who the OEG noted in its missing persons report that dated April 27 that Reyes Vargas had been missing since March 23, but that the Puerto Rico Police found a vehicle registered in Reyes Vargas’ name dismantled in that municipality on March 30, and then filed a missing person report on her on April 3.

The other case from March is that of Brenda Nydia Montalvo Padilla, a 53-year-old woman and resident of Puerto Nuevo in San Juan. The OEG indicated in its missing persons report that Montalvo Padilla has been missing since March 27. On the following day, police found her burned vehicle with bullet holes from two gunshots in the driver’s area.

Lugo Nazario called on men on the island to commit themselves to the fight against gender violence.

“When we are talking about gender violence, we are talking about an umbrella [term] that encompasses many types of violence, which especially targets women and girls, but also impacts men,” she said. “In that work from a gender perspective, from the work that we feminist women do in Puerto Rico, there are also feminist men who accompany us in these processes, but they have to become more active. More men have to be heard because it is their wives, their daughters, their mothers, their sisters, their nieces [who are affected].”

“These fundamentalist groups, when they start with this discourse that begins to [generate] this separation between women and men when it is not so; the work we are doing is a matter of social justice that benefits everyone,” Lugo Nazario added. “No one wants to live with this type of situation.”

Pierluisi: ‘No doubt we’re under a gender violence emergency’

Later on Sunday, Pierluisi called for attention to the rash of gender violence cases that have been recently reported in Puerto Rico.

In a written statement, he urged islanders “to be alert, to look around you, to look at your family and neighbors, colleagues and friends, to everyone in your environment to denounce, to raise our voices” against discriminatory and sexist violence.

As for the oversight board’s denial of greater funding for the emergency decree, the governor said he was seeking available resources from the current budget and “federal pandemic funds to ensure that we meet the safety and security needs of our people.”

At press time, feminist organization CON-Sentimiento called a demonstration for 4 p.m. at Teodoro Moscoso Bridge in response to the most recent slayings.

“We are the cry of those who are no longer here,” the organization said on their Facebook page. “Today we will take to the streets for all our sisters who have been taken from us. We demand action, our lives depend on it.”

CON-Sentimiento also urged islanders to unite for a collective outcry at 5 p.m. Sunday “that is heard on every corner for those who are not here, and those who will come.”

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