Senate approves teleconferencing

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The Senate on Monday, May 4, 2020, adopted a resolution allowing teleconferencing during plenary sessions and committee hearings, removing any question on the legality of the outcome of the meetings.

With all 15 senators present approving Senate Resolution No. 372, the output on the conduct of plenary sessions and committee hearings through teleconference, video conference or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means could now withstand any courts of law.

All senators were made co-author of the resolution.

SRN 372 amends Rule XI, Section 22 and Rule XIV, Section 41 of the Rules of the Senate to allow the conduct of plenary sessions and committee hearings through teleconference, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means

The proposal came in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, mandating all citizen to be at home during the enhance community quarantine.

The resolution stated that the imposition and extension of an enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and specified provinces until May 15 should not prevent Congress from exercising its Constitutional mandate to enact laws and authorize appropriations, especially those necessary for the national government to respond to this national emergency while ensuring the safety and well-being of the affected population.

Under the proposed amendment on Rule XI, the committee may conduct meetings or hearings, except during investigations in aid of legislation, through teleconference, video conference or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means , using appropriate information and communications technology systems due to force majeure or occurrence of an emergency as determined by the majority of all the members of the Senate which may prevent the senators from physically attending the committee meetings or hearings.

Under the proposed amendment on Rule XIV, the Senate President may postpone the holding of the session on a day to day adjournment, or convene and hold the session through teleconference, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means, using appropriate information and communications technology systems, due to force majeure or the occurrence of a national emergency as determined by the majority of all the members of the Senate which may prevent the convening of the senate or the physical presence of its members in the session hall.”

The move came after President Rodrigo Duterte declared on March 8, 2020 a state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines due to the outbreak of the Corona Virus Disease (Covid-19) and enjoining all government agencies and local government units to “render full assistance and cooperation, and mobilize the necessary resources to undertake critical, urgent, and appropriate response and measures in a timely manner to curtail and eliminate the Covid-19 threat.”

The President, on March 16, also issued Proclamation No. 929 declaring a state of calamity throughout the Philippines for a period of six months, “unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant.

Through the inquiry of Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the conduct of teleconferencing could only be done during national emergency or man-made calamities such as war or breakdown of peace and order.

The resolution also mandated the Senate Secretary to recommend the appropriate information and communications technology system and, upon the Senate President’s approval, oversee the setting up thereof.

The Secretary of the Senate shall provide for relevant safety measures to protect the integrity of the plenary session and committee hearings, the security and reliability of the technology used, and the proper archiving of the audio- visual or electronic recording of the sessions and hearings as part of the records of the Senate./Stacy Ang

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