Senators will adopt a resolution that would allow them to hold sessions via teleconferencing and several other measures when Congress convenes on Monday, May 4.
Amid threats of pandemic corona virus 2019 (COVID-19), Senate President Vicente Sotto III committed for the resumption of the Senate sessions. He assured to be physically be present during the Monday session and during all session days until Congress adjourns sine die on June 5.
“I need to be physically present in all the session days, Monday to Wednesday, until June 5 since thr procedures in the session that cannit be done via teleconferencing. Somebody should preside from the Senate session hall. And being the Senate President, I have the responsibility to ensure that all sessions are conducted as mandated by the Rules of the Senate and by the Constitution,” Sotto said.
He said at least 12 senators had vowed to be physically present in the Session Hall others would join their colleagues through Zoom.
“Majority of senators are expected to physically attend the session to pass Senate Resolution No. 372, which seeks to amend Senate rules to “allow the conduct of plenary sessions and committee hearings through teleconference, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means.”
Earlier, Sotto III said the extended quarantine in Metro Manila and other “high risk” areas would not affect the scheduled resumption of the regular session of Congress on Monday.
The first agenda on Monday will be the approval of proposed Senate Resolution No. 372 authored by 15 senators seeking to amend the Rules of the Senate to allow, among others, the conduct of sessions, hearings and meetings through teleconferencing or the use of electronic platforms.
Once the resolution is approved, senators can attend sessions and hold hearings or meetings even without being physically present at the session hall, for the sessions, or the committee rooms for the hearings and meetings.
Sotto said that while senators will be permitted to participate in the sessions from their homes, there is still a need for him to be physically present at the Senate as there are procedures that cannot be done via teleconferencing.
Sotto said senators who will work from home need to inform the Senate Secretary or any member of the Secretariat that they will participate in the session through electronic means so their “presence” can be recorded for quorum purposes.
Senators who will be on teleconference can sponsor committee reports, participate during the interpellation and period of committee and individual amendments, and cast their votes.
However, any senator who wishes to deliver a Privilege Speech should do so at the Senate session hall.
Even during this time of a national health crisis, Sotto said senators cannot shirk from their mandate of making laws especially since the people need to be assured that their government leaders are working to help them survive and recover from the COVID-19 scourge.
“More than anytime, we need to let our people know and feel that we are here to serve them and look out for their welfare. Hindi namin tatalikuran ang sinumpaan naming mandato na pagsilbihan ang sambayanan, lalo na sa panahon ng ating pakikipaglaban para masugpo ang coronavirus,” Sotto said.
The resolution provides that the imposition and extension of an enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region and specified provinces, until the 15th of May 2020, and its attendant limitations 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,” part of the resolution stated.
Aside from Sotto, members of the Senate Secretariat who have primary functions during sessions will also be present at the Senate.
Due to health crisis, Senate Secretary Myra Marie Villarica work schedule would be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“However, employees assigned to the plenary session or who perform session-related functions may be required to render services beyond the said work schedule,” she said.
Employees from the different departments and units who will play essential roles in the conduct of the sessions, such as those in the technical and public information bureaus and the Senate security office will also be required to be at the Senate.
Staff of offices that do not have any participation in the sessions will continue their current work at home arrangements.
Each senator will decide on their respective offices’ work setups.
Sotto said senators, their staff and all employees who will report for work at the Senate will go through health protocols to ensure the health and safety of everyone.
“I am fully aware of the concerns of Senate employees about going to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to assure everyone that necessary health safeguards will be enforced and social distancing and hygiene protocols will be strictly followed during the sessions,” Sotto said.
Fifteen senators signed the resolution. They were Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, Sherwin Gatchalian, Lito Lapid, Imee Marcos, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Joel Villanueva and Cynthia Villar.
Also expected to be adopted is a resolution expressing condolences to the family of the late Sen. Heherson Alvarez, who died of COVID-19 last April 20./ Stacy Ang