As the “limitations” being observed under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis should not prevent Congress from doing its constitutional mandate, 15 senators on Monday filed a resolution to use teleconference as a means to conduct their sessions.
Under Senate Resolution 372, the senators seeks to amend the Senate rules to allow the conduct of plenary sessions and committee hearings via teleconference amid the COVID-19 situation.
The senators noted that while the ECQ in Metro Manila and other high-risk provinces has been extended until May 15, Congress shall not be impeded from “exercising its constitutional mandate to enact laws and authorize appropriations,” especially those that would be needed to address the national emergency.
An amendment to Sec. 22 of Rule XI in the Senate rules was proposed to allow committee hearings through “teleconferencing, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means,” in case of force majeure or occurrence of an emergency which may prevent the lawmakers from physically attending committee hearings or hearings.
Sec. 41 of Rule XIV which provides for the conduct of Senate sessions was also proposed to be amended.
Proponents of the resolution suggested that the Senate President, after consulting the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, may postpone the holding of sessions on a day to day adjournment.
The Resolution also provides that the Senate President may also convene and hold the session through electronic means with the consent of the House of Representatives.
The Senate Secretary will be tasked to protect the integrity of the plenary session and committee hearings by ensuring that the technology that will be used is secured and reliable. The proceedings under the proposed system will still be part of the records of the Senate.
Lawmakers may still amend the said resolution on May 4 when they convene for the resumption of session.
The signatories to the resolution are Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Sherwin Gatchalian, Lito Lapid, Imee Marcos, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Bong Revilla, Joel Villanueva and Cynthia Villar.
Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement of lockdown extension in the National Capital Region, Sotto III said they will convene Congress on May 4.
Zubiri stressed senators this is a “new normal,” sessions via teleconferencing. He said this mode, is being done in many parliaments around the world during this pandemic brought about by the new coronavirus.
“We may still need to attend the opening on May 4 to tackle this Resolution (on teleconferencing) as well as a Resolution honoring our former colleague Sen. Heherson Alvarez.,” said Zubiri.
“Once we reach a consensus on video sessions, we can then tweak our video equipments at the Senate and set up Zoom-like conferences with our members and Secretariat officers to conduct our business for the day,” said Zubiri.
He guaranteed that everything would be strictly recorded and would be considered as part of Senate data and archives.
“While we await a vaccine for this deadly virus and the spread of this disease continues, this may be the ‘new normal’ in the meantime,” he added.
In shifting to this mode of conducting Senate sessions, Zubiri stressed they also don’t want to put senators at unnecessary risk as they have members that have underlying medical conditions.
He also said some of the senators are senior citizens, which even the (IATF) Inter-Agency Task Force considers under its priority stay home orders.
He mentioned that three senators had already contracted COVID-19 due to exposures in the Senate dealing with their work as legislators.
Aside from Zubiri, the two other senators— Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Sonny Angara tested positive for the virus. Two of the three staffs of two senators also lost their battle to COVID-19.
Zubiri also said they lost former Senator Heherson Alvarez to the highly-infectious virus which emerged in Wuhan, China./Stacy Ang