The Senate's intention to take advantage of emergency triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic to approve a new Civil Code without providing an opportunity for broad participation, particularly from potentially affected sectors, undermines the representative principles that should govern such an important document. Such legislative action would be an affront to our democratic system.
The Civil Code should not be subjected to arbitrary manipulation just convenient for some particular sectors. Since it governs the relationships of all citizens, it must guarantee a fair balance of interests, which is achieved through an objective and thoughtful process of analysis and dialogue.
And that is what should have happened since the Senate postponed the vote in early March at the request of Governor Wanda Vázquez. Submitting the Civil Code proposal to a process of consideration -including the participation of different sectors- helps to reflect the evolution of the recognition of rights that society has reached in this 21st century and the technological and scientific transformations that impact on the dynamics of human coexistence.
In the past two months, the Legislative Assembly should have addressed the document's deficiencies, as pointed out by experts, including the lack of arguments to explain and justify the proposed amendments. The legislative analysis process is necessary to clearly guide the courts when they have to decide on a dispute. Leaving this document, which is essential for our society, to subjective and therefore accommodative interpretations can open the door to the violation of rights.
Just as the legislature has been able to hold hearings, with the precautions imposed by the public health emergency, it should have been able to take advantage of these two months to hold the public hearings it refused to hold earlier. Approving the Code without giving equal participation to sectors that have traditionally been excluded has the potential to produce an unequal and dangerous rule of law.
We agree with the governor on the importance of ensuring that the most important piece of legislation for legal relations and business guarantees and does not undermine citizens' rights.
Organizations advocating for civil rights, women's rights, and the rights of LGBT people are among the sectors that raised concerns about possible attacks on their rights.
Their complaints must be addressed, particularly given the wave of gender-based violence against these two sectors. Over the first two months of 2020, up until the beginning of March, the Police received almost 1,400 domestic violence against women complaints. Three women were murdered so far this year. And, ten LGBT people were killed in less than two years, five of them transgendered in just two months.
Violence against these sectors keeps increasing as long as the State does not address their claims to protect their rights and fosters with its actions or inactions a climate of exclusion, abuse, and intolerance.
Emergencies that have hit the island in recent years, caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic have shown that social divisions make Puerto Rico more vulnerable. On the other hand, unity, with no consideration other than respect and solidarity, has been an irrefutable formula for overcoming those great challenges. These experiences should serve our lawmakers as some of the great lessons of this term. Electoral ambition cannot be an excuse to impose a deficient bill that further divides Puerto Rico.
When requesting to postpone the Senate vote in March, Governor Vázquez said the Civil Code should not affect acquired rights or be in conflict with current jurisprudence. The Department of Justice had already expressed concerns about the bill's language. Both positions should be addressed. On the other hand, the necessary process of reviewing the Civil Code has taken twenty years and has cost constituents $10 million. Imposing a new, incomplete, and flawed bill of rights, without consultation and broad consent would throw away the efforts and funds invested.
In the process of undertaking its delayed recovery, Puerto Rico needs a Civil Code that reflects aspirations of unity, justice, and respect for all its citizens.