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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Public servants take governor to task over ‘sacred duty’ comments

“The only thing I did say, was that duty should not be waived, duty should not be cast aside,” Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said Tuesday. “He who misses work misses his duty, unless he is really sick.”

By John McPhaul

Puerto Rico’s public servants took Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to task Tuesday for comments he made at a press conference Monday which they found offensive.

The Puerto Rican Police Union (SPP by its Spanish initials) condemned the governor’s statements in which, they said, he insinuated that no one is forced to be a police officer or a firefighter.

“The man or woman who decides to be a Police officer knows that … [w]hen they make such an important decision, they know that wearing their uniform and the work they will do protecting lives, property and ensuring compliance with the laws can cost them their lives. Even so, they decide [to accept] that life of service to the people, and sacrifices for themselves and their family. It is for that vocation, service and sacrifices, that they should be well treated, paid and supported by those who govern. And when that does not happen, they have a legitimate right to express themselves and demand from those who govern the fair treatment they deserve,” the SPP said in a written statement. “What the policemen and women of Puerto Rico do not deserve are the contemptuous words uttered by Governor Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia at the press conference offered by the Government on Monday, February 7, 2022. The Puerto Rican Police Union and its Board of Directors condemn such statements. As does each Police officer, their families and good citizens who recognize and appreciate the work of these public servants.”

“For a Policeman, not being well treated and paid for his or her vocation and sacrificed work causes discomfort. But being underestimated by his Commander-in-Chief causes him or her indignation and repudiation,” the statement said. “Mr. Governor, the political book and your advisers will say that you should not retract your statement. But the conscience of a good man and leader calls on him to correct the damage caused to the emotional state of those who care for you and the people you govern.”

Pierluisi responded to the criticism by saying he had nothing to regret.

“Not in the least. Regret what?” the governor said at a press conference later on Tuesday. “That is, I made many statements in total solidarity with the demands that exist, giving space to public expression, marches, protests. The only thing I did say, was that duty should not be waived, duty should not be cast aside. He who misses work misses his duty, unless he is really sick.”

“What I reiterate is that no, that is not right. There is no justification [for calling in sick as a form of protest],” Pierluisis said. “One can protest and march outside of business hours, one can march and protest on weekends. Why are you going to prevent the teaching of children? And in the same way, putting the life and property of others at risk. That is not done.”

Meanwhile, Juan Vega Quiñones, president of the Organization of Popular Public Servants, described on Tuesday as “a bucket of cold water” the statements made by Pierluisi about the police and firefighters when reacting to the firefighters’ warning that they would continue with the so-called “red flu” action as a method of pressure to demand better wages and working conditions.

“I was greatly surprised by the Governor’s statements in the face of our demands,” said Vega Quiñones, who belongs to the Puerto Rico Fire Department, in a written statement. “I felt that neither he nor the [La Fortaleza] Chief of Staff, who also made similar statements, have empathy or sensitivity toward our fellow firefighters. They disrespected all of us.”

Pierluisi said Monday that “defending public safety is a sacred duty.”

“Whoever assumes this duty has to assume it without conditions. It is not a duty that one should relegate and there are forms and ways to protest, but it should never entail endangering the lives of others when it is your duty,” the governor said. “Nobody is forced to be a policeman or a firefighter. But whoever dedicates himself to that vocation has to assume that great responsibility. If he questions whether he should keep doing it because the pay isn’t what he expects, he’s not obligated to stay. Now, if he stays in that position, he has to do his duty. No alternative.”

Vega Quiñones added that the governor must be cautious in the statements he makes about public employees, since they are the ones in charge of implementing the public policy of the government in power.

“We are high-risk government [public] servants and we deserve a decent salary and retirement,” he said. “If his government does not defend the workers of this country, they will be forced to make demands in the way they deem appropriate.”

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