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Calderon Withdraws, Resubmits Mercado’s Nomination As Chief Justice…Bush Makes RR Shutdown Official…956 Amendment Not Offered In Congress…Puerto Ricans Happiest…Ondeo Dispute May Lead To Govt. Takeover…Mercado Defends Himself At Hearings, Confirmation Votes Lacking… Acevedo Vila Rejects Governor’s Plea

Calderon Resubmits Mercado’s Nomination As Chief Justice

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Nearly two hours after Gov. Sila Calderon withdrew the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado as Supreme Court chief justice, she resubmitted it again to avoid a constitutional limbo without precedents in Puerto Rican history.

At 9:20 p.m., Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora told the press that Calderon withdrew a nomination she made on Mercado as associate justice and nominated Mercado once again as chief justice.

Calderon’s letter nominating Mercado as chief justice for a second time arrived at the Senate at 7:27 p.m., after the Senate Popular Democratic Party (PDP) delegation decided to vote unanimously on Mercado’s nomination as associate justice.

"The executive and legislative branches thought the Constitution allowed us [to nominate Mercado as associate justice]. But [once the associate justice nomination came to the Senate], there were some questions, including from the judicial branch. The executive branch acted with deference to avoid any constitutional controversy and to prevent bigger problems to the judiciary [by withdrawing Mercado’s nomination as associate justice and resubmitted again her first option, which was nominating Mercado as chief justice]," Fas Alzamora said.

It is unknown if Calderon withdrew Mercado’s initial nomination as chief justice because he did not have the votes needed to be confirmed.

Fas Alzamora said he did not know who advised Calderon on the decision-making process or if La Fortaleza consulted the situation with the nominee.

The constitutional crisis at the Supreme Court was created Thursday afternoon when Calderon withdrew the nomination of Mercado as chief justice and submitted his name for an associate justice post, although there are no vacancies within the Supreme Court. The only vacancy at the island’s highest court is for chief justice.

Upon Calderon’s decision, the Senate New Progressive Party and Puerto Rican Independence Party delegations—even the press—questioned Mercado’s nomination as associate judge and said it couldn’t be considered on the floor because there are no vacancies for associate justice in the Supreme Court.

Mercado’s nomination as chief justice caused great opposition among all sectors, including six PDP senators, who along with the minorities, decided to vote against the nominee.

The controversy caused the PDP delegation to call on a recess until Friday at 11 a.m. seeking for an alternative to solve the crisis at the island’s highest judicial forum.

Prior to the continuance of the session Friday, the PDP delegation will have another caucus at 10 a.m. to discuss how they will vote on Mercado’s nomination as chief justice, even though it is public that six PDP senators oppose the nomination under those circumstances.

An angry Sen. Margarita Ostolaza (one of the six senators who oppose Mercado’s nomination) was seen leaving the PDP caucus around 8 p.m., possibly at the time that the senators found out that Calderon submitted Mercado’s nomination for chief justice again.

The PDP caucus began their meeting at Fas Alzamora’s office on Thursday around 4:30 p.m., and the majority voted to apply the caucus rules on Mercado’s nomination.

This means that PDP senators are called to vote according with the position the caucus assumes toward the nomination.

The decision was made through a voting process, ignoring the request made to Fas Alzamora by three PDP important mayors, who asked Fas Alzamora not to apply caucus rules to vote on Mercado’s nomination.

The request was made by mayors William Miranda Marin (Caguas), Rafael Cordero Santiago (Ponce), and Mayors Association President Jose Aponte de la Torre(Carolina).

"We are urged to ask you on behalf of the PDP to which we belong and the people to make sure that this matter be decided in the most democratic way possible in front of the people. This means that each PDP senator should be allowed to vote freely, according to their consciences, and not with caucus rules," the mayors stated in their letter.

"I have not seen that letter; I know it exists, but I haven’t read it. But as you may know, the PDP senators made the decision regarding the applicability of caucus rules on this nomination," Fas Alzamora said.

PDP President Anibal Acevedo Vila also requested the same liberty for the senators and claimed victory when at first it was known that Calderon withdrew the nomination.

Now it is undetermined how the PDP caucus will vote on the nomination or if PDP senators opposing Mercado’s nomination as chief justice would be reprimanded if they make valid their opposition through their vote on the floor.

The Supreme Court was headed by Chief Justice Jose Andreu Garcia, who retired effective Sept. 30. Judge Francisco Rebollo serves as interim chief justice.

Governor Withdraws Mercado’s Nomination As Chief Justice

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Gov. Sila Calderon withdrew Thursday afternoon the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado as Supreme Court chief justice.

Instead, she nominated him as an associate justice.

At 5:45 p.m., while the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) senators were having a caucus meeting to decide on the future of Mercado’s controversial nomination to occupy the island’s highest ranking post in the judicial branch, Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora called a press conference to announce Calderon’s decision.

"The governor has informed us of the withdrawal of Mercado as Supreme Court chief justice and has sent us a [new] nomination on Mercado, but as associate justice," Fas Alzamora said.

He said the 19 members of the Senate PDP delegation endorsed Mercado’s nomination as associate justice unanimously.

"I am pleased to submit for the advice and the consent of the Senate the nomination of Ferdinand Mercado Ramos as associate justice of the Supreme Court," Fas Alzamora said while reading the letter sent by Calderon.

On Wednesday, Mercado’s controversial nomination as chief justice did not have the needed votes to be confirmed, since six PDP senators joined the New Progressive Party (NPP) and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) minorities opposing the nomination.

As a result, government officials, attorneys, and even Calderon herself was calling senators to convince them to change their mind.

She also spent nearly $100,000 in public funds for a televised speech to defend Mercado’s nomination and praise his professional and personal attributes.

Mercado would have needed 15 votes in his favor to be confirmed as chief justice.

"The PDP caucus, in a unanimous vote, will support and vote in favor of [Mercado’s nomination as associate justice]," Fas Alzamora said.

Senate NPP Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock said Mercado’s nomination cannot be considered on the floor because there are no vacancies for associate justice in the Supreme Court.

"The NPP minority will vote against this nomination because Mercado did not meet the requirements for chief justice and neither does he now for associate justice," McClintock said.

"The lawmaker explained that the Supreme Court is comprised of one chief justice and six associate justices, so she cannot appoint anybody [as associate justice]," McClintock said.

He said that in order to nominate someone as associate justice, the governor has to nominate a chief justice first, and then if there’s a vacancy [presuming she will appoint someone from the current justices], she can nominate someone to replace the associate justice.

He said Calderon’s action is unconstitutional.

PIP Sen. Fernando Martin agreed with McClintock and said any nomination for associate justice is useless because there are no vacancies.

Martin said no matter the change in Calderon’s nomination, he will vote against Mercado and that he’s happy that the governor made the decision to withdraw Mercado from the chief justice nomination.

Bush Makes Roosevelt Roads Shutdown Official

October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – President George W. Bush put in writing the decision to close the U.S. Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba by April 1, 2004.

The decision was included in a bill that assigns $368 billion to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2004.

The legislative piece makes little reference to Roosevelt Roads and Bush didn’t mention it in his official statement, according to published reports.

According to the new law, the U.S. Navy secretary will have six months to close the base.

The process will be subjected to the Base Realignment and Closure rules known as BRAC.

Through this law, the federal government may decide to keep some of the base facilities and allow local authorities to develop military land for the benefit of the public.

Any land and facilities not claimed by either the federal or local governments may be sold, in which case the Navy would keep 60% of the profit.

956 Amendment Not Presented Before Congress

October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The legislative amendment to U.S. Internal Revenue Code Section 956 to extend tax benefits to Puerto Rico was not presented Wednesday before Congress as expected.

Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra indicated in a press release that although the U.S. Senate Finance Committee did not evaluate the bill, it accepted a proposal from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to reduce the tax rate of 35% to 32% for U.S. manufacturing companies.

This proposal would apply to U.S. manufacturing companies that operate in Puerto Rico, officials said.

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila was not available to explain why the Section 956 amendment, an economic lobbying priority of the Puerto Rico government, was not presented.

New Progressive Party Sen. Kenneth McClintock said Acevedo Vila "failed in his last opportunity to attain the Section 956 amendment."

The senator said "by luck," the measure presented by Kerry "treats Puerto Rico as a state in terms of tax reductions."

Happiness Is Living In Puerto Rico - Poll.

From wire service reports

October 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved. 

It's official. Finding happiness is as easy as having money, being married or ... living in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is the world's most satisfied country, while the Russians are the most miserable people on the planet.

The analysis, published in New Scientist, from the 1999-2001 World Values Survey, shows the most "satisfied" people live in Latin America, Western Europe and the US. Eastern Europeans are the least happy. Countries behind Puerto Rico include New Zealand, which is 15th, the US at No 16 and Britain which is 24th.

The survey also included the statistics on how happy people are in their day-to-day lives, which differs from one's overall life satisfaction. Nigeria ranked as the happiest country, followed by Mexico, Venezuela and El Salvador.

AAA, Ondeo Contract Dispute May Lead To Govt. Takeover

October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Business News Americas ( All rights reserved. 

OndeoAutoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados de Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's government may retake control of the national aqueduct & sewerage authority (AAA) in six months, if the contract dispute with private operator Ondeo is not resolved, the Nuevo Dia quoted AAA President Juan Agosto Alicea as saying.

Ondeo wants a contract similar to the previous concessionaire, Compania de Aguas, where the government funds everything, however Compania de Aguas had losses of some US$990mn, the paper said. "We will have to decide between ceding to a private company's pressure and change the contract or accept the fact that the country must regain control of AAA," the paper quoted Alicea as saying.

Ondeo's concession period runs until 2012, unless it receives an unfavorable evaluation in 2007, BNamericas previously reported.

According to the government contract, Ondeo receives US$385mn/year to operate AAA. Ondeo took over a 10-year operating concession in July 2002.

Mercado Speaks At Confirmation Hearings

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado defended himself Wednesday against the criticism that his nomination for Puerto Rico Supreme Court chief justice has received, saying that he meets the requirements and has the integrity, intellectual honesty, analytical skills, and academic preparation that the island’s highest judicial post requires.

Mercado acknowledged that people can exercise their constitutional right to free speech, but he said criticism must be well-founded, objective, and dispassionate.

"There has been plenty of criticism about my nomination, but that criticism should be well-articulated with substantial information, not passionate comments," he said.

Mercado made his remarks at a packed public hearing at the Senate, which political figures including former Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Secretary General Fernando Ramirez Toro, Court of Appeals Justice Pierre Vivoni, and some State Department employees attended. The governor’s press secretary, Tato Ramos, also witnessed the hearings.

Mercado was accompanied by his wife Michelle Mercado, his two sons, and other relatives.

He listed his professional achievements, including serving as legal advisor and secretary of the House of Representatives, PDP secretary general, and secretary of State.

"A good justice must be honest in every aspect of his life. He must have intellectual honesty, academic preparation, analytical skills, interest in serving the people and the judiciary, leadership, and judicial character; [he must be] objective, sensible, and with a sense of independent judgment," he stated.

The secretary of State said the positions he occupied at the legislative and executive branches require patience, tolerance, and the ability to conciliate diverse opinions, as well as to encompass conflicting perspectives.

He said those responsibilities have strengthened his professional skills, especially his ability to achieve consensus between the parties.

A chief justice nominee must be a U.S. citizen, an attorney with 10 years of experience, and a resident of the island for five years before the nomination, according to the Constitution.

Mercado explained that although there’s no exact definition for the term "judicial character," a judge must listen to all parties without bias, then make a decision on the evidence. He said judicial character does not mean remaining silent.

"Most of the people who oppose my nomination have not had any relationship with me on legal matters or while I served as advisor, attorney, judge, or secretary of State. If they did, it was long ago," Mercado said.

"Those who doubt my intellectual ability, my character, my academic preparation, and my professional experience do not know me," he added.

Mercado has a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from the University of Puerto Rico, a law degree from InterAmerican University (IAU), and is working on his thesis for a degree in law from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, which has a joint doctoral program with the IAU.

He quoted the late Chief Justice Jose Trias Monge, who said the judiciary requires stability and change and that the second quality gives the branch the opportunity to adapt according to the transformation of society.

He rejected the idea that his experience as district judge is limited, saying each case is fundamental for the parties involved. He said justice, objectivity, and ethics are also required of all judges regardless of their level of judicial competence.

He claimed that many current justices were political activists but abandoned their political passions in the interest of judicial independence.

"I want the Nominations Committee to evaluate me, my professional merits, the possible contributions I can make to the judicial branch, and the trust the people may have [in me]," Mercado said.

"For myself, I only ask the Senate two things: the due process of law and the equal protection of the law," he said.

After addressing the senators for more than one hour, Mercado was questioned by nearly 20 senators for almost five hours.

Throughout, Mercado rejected allegations made by deponents at the two-day hearings and guaranteed the senators that he would perform with objectivity and without political considerations.

"I answered all the questions they asked; I hope the senators will take the opportunity to evaluate me," he said.

Mercado Does Not Appear To Have Votes To Be Confirmed

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

If the Senate had voted on the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado on Wednesday, the nominee would not have been confirmed as Supreme Court chief justice.

After a three-day hearing process in which 35 deponents praised, lambasted, or assumed neutral positions on the qualifications of the nominee, the Senate minorities—which represent 9 votes out of 29—reaffirmed their opposition to Mercado’s nomination.

The announcement of six Popular Democratic Party (PDP) senators that they will also vote against Mercado once the nomination reaches the floor next week will leave the secretary of State without the consent of the Senate to occupy the highest ranking position within the judicial branch.

Sens. Modesto Agosto Alicea, Juan Cancel Alegria, Yazmin Mejias Lugo, Jose A. Ortiz Daliot, Margarita Ostolaza Bey, and Roberto L. Prats Palerm sent a letter to Gov. Sila Calderon on Wednesday stating their opposition to her nominee.

"As a matter of conscience, we cannot give our consent to the nominee to be confirmed for that important post," they said.

While these senators made public their rejection of the nomination, others who had not taken a position on Mercado’s nomination before the hearings, did so during the hearings.

"After reading your impressive resume and after you have answered the questions of my colleagues, I am announcing here—so they cannot say that the PDP caucus obliged me to do so—that I will vote in your favor," said Senate Vice President Velda Gonzalez.

Along with Gonzalez and Irizarry, other PDP senators who endorse Mercado as chief justice are Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora and Sens. Eudaldo Baez Galib, Cirilo Tirado, Jose Luis Dalmau, Jorge Ramos Comas, Julio Rodriguez Gomez, Rafael Rodriguez, and Sixto Hernandez.

Sens. Roberto Vigoreaux, Sergio Peña Clos, Bruno Ramos, and Angel Rodriguez have remained neutral on the nomination.

PDP senators will meet Thursday to discuss Mercado’s nomination and to decide if the lawmakers will have to accept and vote according to the caucus’ majority decision on the nomination regardless of their personal views.

The Nominations Committee is required to prepare a report on the nominee, but it appears it won’t be ready until the PDP caucus meets. The report needs to be evaluated by the members of the committee, who must say if they support or reject it; it will then be submitted to the members of the Senate for their study and subsequent vote on the floor.

PDP Majority Leader Jose Luis Dalmau explained that during the voting process, only a simple majority is required for quorum purposes; at the time of the vote, the nominee could be confirmed by those voting in favor because an abstention doesn’t count as a vote.

Fifteen senators must be on the floor at the time of the vote to constitute a quorum. As a result, Mercado would need only eight votes to be confirmed as Supreme Court chief justice.

If a senator abstained, according to Dalmau, Mercado could be confirmed with only the votes in his favor. For example, if 15 senators attend and six vote against the nominee, and two abstain, he would be confirmed with seven votes.

The hearings’ mood turned tense when New Progressive Party Sen. Norma Burgos questioned Mercado about 12 lawsuits filed by 26 employees of the State Department, which have resulted in the conferral of nearly $200,000 to employees who won their suits. Another 10 proceedings are still pending, citing political discrimination by the nominee or his subordinates.

When Burgos was explaining some of the allegations to Mercado, Nominations Committee Chairman Bruno Ramos told the nominee he did not have to answer the questions if he did not want to do so.

Burgos said Mercado was willing to answer the questions and asked Ramos not to protect the nominee.

Immediately, Ramos ordered the committee technician to turn off Burgos’ mike, and she replied she did not need the microphone to speak.

"What you have to do is to shut your mouth," Ramos said.

Burgos firmly asked once again that Mercado be allowed to answer the questions, and Ramos yelled at her, "Shut up!"

Burgos said three times that Ramos was disrespectful; Ramos then asked Mercado if he wanted to answer the questions, which Mercado proceeded to do.

Mercado insisted that the pending lawsuits were filed against the secretary of State as an institution and not against him personally.

Acevedo Vila Rejects Governor’s Message

By Laura Rivera Melendez of Associated Press

October 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila assured that he will not allow the questioning of the motivations of various sectors of the island for opposing the nomination of Secretary of State Ferdinand Mercado as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Acevedo Vila reacted to the message that Gov. Sila Calderon issued Tuesday night, in which she attributed "purely political, personal, and arrogant reasons" to motives for the opposition taken by many social, political, and judicial sectors to her nominee.

"I have never questioned, nor will I question, the motives for the governor’s nomination, but I will not allow questioning the people’s right to exercise their right to disagree with her," the resident commissioner said in a press release.

He added that "One cannot confuse the general rejection of all the sectors of our people with a concerted political conspiracy," which is what the governor said in her speech.

Acevedo Vila insisted that the main reasons for opposing the nomination is Mercado’s "lack of judicial ability and judicial temperament."

"The island knows that this nomination does not have the majority of the votes in the Senate, and in the same way the governor has a responsibility to nominate, the Senate has the constitutional responsibility to judge the nomination," Acevedo Vila said.

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