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Senate to go on 6-day lockdown

The Senate of the Philippines in Pasay City will be placed under a six-day lockdown starting Wednesday evening, March 17, until next Tuesday, March 23, after several employees tested positive for COVID-19. 

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III made the announcement during the plenary session after receiving queries on his phone on why local bills were being tackled on the floor, causing the proceedings to extend beyond 6 pm. 

"For those who have been asking the presiding officer about the session and the time, we have decided to extend because as recommended by the Senate secretariat and the medical services of the Senate, we have to declare a lockdown in the Senate from today, from tonight up to [Tuesday] of next week," said Sotto.

Sotto earlier set a three-hour cap on the conduct of plenary sessions this week after three of the chamber's in-house catering staff tested positive for COVID-19.

The entire Bills and Index Office staff – who perform tasks crucial in the legislative process – are also under quarantine after a male employee got infected with the virus.

This prompted the Senate to skip its session on Tuesday, March 16, to disinfect the premises.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri told reporters that 24 Senate personnel had tested positive and all are currently under isolation.

Only Sotto, Zubiri, two secretariat staff, and the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms were physically present during Wednesday's session. The rest of the senators participated in the proceedings via teleconferencing app Zoom.

Senate Secretary Myra Villarica issued an advisory to employees that work will be suspended for employees on March 18, 22, 23, and 25. Employees who will not perform critical functions for the Senate session next Wednesday, March 24, will also not be required to physically report for work.

The Senate's six-day lockdown means its next plenary session will be held next Wednesday – the last for the chamber before the 18th Congress is scheduled to take a two-month break.

Sotto said local bills that have been "languishing" in the Senate had to be tackled on Wednesday evening, since the chamber will only be able to process them once Congress resumes session in May. 

Scheduled committee hearings will continue in the next days, but these will have to be done virtually.

The Senate is implementing its lockdown protocols amid a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. The country has recorded 635,000 COVID-19 infections so far, of which 4,387 new cases were reported on Wednesday.

Unlike in the upper chamber, the House of Representatives has not declared a lockdown in its headquarters in Quezon City despite recording 29 active COVID-19 cases

Cities in Metro Manila are currently imposing uniform curfew hours from 10 pm to 5 am for two weeks to help quell the spread of COVID-19. – 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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