Senate to convene for session on May 4

Aika Rey
Senate to convene for session on May 4
A resolution that will tackle the legislative work in the Senate during the lockdown is being prepared

 

MANILA, Philippines – Despite the extension of the lockdown in Metro Manila, the Senate will still convene for session starting May 4.

“As far as Congress is concerned, it doesn’t matter. We have to convene,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Friday, April 24, in a statement sent to reporters who asked about the resumption of session on May 4 after President Rodrigo Duterte announced the extension of the lockdown in Metro Manila and other areas in Luzon until May 15.

Historically, the Senate has never conducted virtual sessions. In August 2019, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Panfilo Lacson filed a resolution for meetings through teleconferencing, video conferencing, and similar methods to allow detained Senator Leila de Lima to attend plenary sessions and committee hearings, but the resolution remained pending. 

Asked whether senators will physically meet on the first day of session, the Senate President said: “Yes, and I don’t have to ask. It’s a mandate of our legislative calendar.”

But for the rest of session days, Sotto said that they would have to “play by ear.” For the longest time, senators have so far corresponded through the social messaging apps.

Senators have earlier said that they will have to discuss during a caucus how the chamber will go about its legislative work, but some support meeting virtually in the meantime.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that a resolution regarding legislative work in the time of coronavirus is being prepared. It will be routed to senators for comments and amendments starting Saturday, April 25.

Suspend rules?

Zubiri, who has recently recovered from COVID-19, said he fully supports the push for teleconferencing, as it is being “done by many parliaments.”

“Once we reach a consensus on video sessions, we can then tweak our video equipment at the Senate and set up Zoom like conferences with our members and secretariat officers to conduct our business for the day,” he said.

As public transport is still suspended during the total lockdown, Zubiri said on Friday that at least 80% of the 3,000 Senate employees will have no means to go to Pasay City, therefore the chamber would still have to operate with a skeleton force.

The majority leader added that many senators have underlying conditions, while some are already “senior citizens,” and thus are at risk.

“The last thing we want to do is expose our members, staff, and secretariat personnel in the legislature and make it spread like wildfire towards the communities where they live. That will not only defeat the purpose of the quarantine lockdown but will put more of our medical personnel at risk and further fill up our strained medical facilities,” Zubiri said.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian earlier said that committee hearings should be limited, especially because these hearings usually require a number of guests who need to attend as resource persons. Bills pending in the plenary, meanwhile, should still be tackled, he added.

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros had said that the minority senators are “interested” to continue legislative work. She said teleconferencing could be among the modes to be adopted, but it would still depend on the caucus when session resumes.

The House of Representatives is also discussing how it will conduct sessions. The House adapted to current technologies faster than the Senate and had been holding virtual hearings through the  app Zoom. (READ: Zoom patches vulnerabilities in macOS version, freezes feature development)

The lower chamber even implemented teleconferencing during the special session on March 23 when they heard the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

The Senate, meanwhile, did not suspend its rules, and required the minimum number of senators to physically attend the special session on March 23.

Congress was on break starting March 14. Among the controversial pending measures ar the proposed Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act (Citira) and ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal.

Based on previous pronouncements, lawmakers will prioritize the economic stimulus package in relation to the coronavirus lockdowns, and the supplemental budget, if the executive requests for one on top of the fund flexibility already provided by the Bayanihan law. (READ: Funding the fight vs the coronavirus– Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

author

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.