Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla emphasized Thursday before a U.S. Senate panel the failure of the statehood option in last November's plebiscite on the island.

In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the governor and leader of the pro-commonwealth PPD party said that the statehood option obtained just 44.4 percent of the votes, not the 61 percent claimed by statehood advocates.

"The Puerto Rico Elections Commission certified that 1,878,969 participated and that 834,191 voted for statehood. The truth is that of the total of votes cast, only 44.4 percent favor statehood," he said.

The non-binding referendum consisted of two questions.

On the first, 54 percent of voters opted for ending the island's current status as a Free Associated State (or commonwealth) of the United States, while 61 percent of those who answered the second question favored statehood over the other two choices: current status or independence.

But more than 460,000 Puerto Ricans who voted on the first status question did not respond to the second question.

The plebiscite was organized by Garcia Padilla's predecessor, Luis Fortuño, then-leader of the pro-statehood PNP party.

The PPD criticized the process because its preferred status option, enhanced commonwealth, was not included on the ballot.

Garcia Padilla said that a true self-determination process should include all options and that these may then compete in a fair and transparent manner.

Along those lines, he reiterated his support for a budget proposal by the Obama Administration leaving the holding of a new referendum with four options - U.S. commonwealth, modification of the current commonwealth agreement, statehood and independence - in the hands of the Puerto Rican government.

The committee chairman, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, said in his opening statement that any future plebiscite should include only the options of statehood or independence.

"The 'New Commonwealth' option continues to be advocated as a viable option by some. It is not," Wyden said.

"Persistence in supporting this option after it has been rejected as inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution by the U.S. Justice Department, by the bipartisan leadership of this Committee, by the House, and by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations undermines resolution of Puerto Rico's status question," he said.

July 25 marked the 115th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War.

Island residents were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, yet they cannot vote in presidential elections, though Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States can.

Since 1952, the island has been a self-governing, unincorporated territory of the United States with broad internal autonomy, but without the right to conduct its own foreign policy. EFE