House imposes strict physical distancing measures for May 4 session reopening

The House of Representatives is imposing strict physical distancing protocols as it resumes session on Monday, May 4, including implementing a “no face mask, no entry” policy during the coronavirus pandemic.

House Secretary General Luis Montales issued on Friday, May 1, the guidelines on the lower chamber’s operations amid the health crisis, a copy of which was sent to repoters on Sunday, May 3.

The 3 pm plenary sessions at the Batasang Pambansa will be streamed online.

Committee hearings, technical working group meetings, administrative meetings, political caucuses, and press conferences will be conducted through a teleconferencing app as well.

Only 25 lawmakers will be allowed to physically attend the plenary sessions, while another 25 individuals will be allowed to stay in the session hall, including congressional staff, media personnel, and other guests.

All those entering Batasan will be required to wear a face mask as well as apply alcohol or sanitizers and use the footwear disinfection mat upon entry. Their body temperature will be checked as well.

Persons with a temperature reading of 37.5 degrees Celsius will not be allowed to enter the premises and will instead be directed to the quarantine tents in the House complex.

Flexible working hours will be adopted for congressional staff, who will still be required to work for 40 hours per week through a combination of work-in-the-office and work-from-home arrangements.

Non-essential activities in Batasan will not be allowed for now.

Staff of the House food concessionaires and other service providers will be required to submit health declaration forms.

Guests of lawmakers and other House offices first have to confirm their appointments with the Sergeant-at-Arms’ office at least one hour before arrival. They also have to submit health declaration forms.

The House already held its first-ever virtual session on March 23, when lawmakers spent 14 hours to debate, amend, and pass the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act that gave President Rodrigo Duterte special powers to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The newly formed House Defeat COVID-19 committee has also been conducting virtual technical working group meetings through Zoom in the past weeks.

The video conferencing app allowed lawmakers and journalists to directly ask various Cabinet members and government officials questions about the COVID-19 response.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano previously said that lawmakers will be prioritizing its scrutiny of the national budget following the House's “brewing disagreement” with the Department of Budget and Management, which had released a belt-tightening order on government programs not directly related to COVID-19 response. (READ: Cayetano insists beef with DBM chief over infra budget not about pork barrel)

House leaders also filed a "new normal" bill that would institutionalize new norms of physical distancing in public spaces – like the wearing of face masks – even after the lifting of the lockdown imposed due COVID-19.

As of Saturday, May 2, COVID-19 has infected 8,929 people in the country, 603 cases of which were fatal. Still, 1,124 patients have already recovered.

Read a copy of the House’s guidelines on operations during the COVID-19 pandemic below:

- Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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