Philippine senate suspends session until March 11 due to spread of COVID-19

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2020 08:21 PM

MANILA - The Philippine Senate on Monday suspended its plenary session for a day, after health authorities announced the rise of the novel coronavirus cases in the country to 20 that include cases of local transmission.

The Senate will resume session on March 11 at 1pm, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said in plenary, noting that senators are still free to hold committee hearings “at their own risk.”

“The staff, with the discretion of the senators, do not necessarily have to come [to work],” Zubiri said.

“We must be very careful in these trying times... remember that the number of cases doubled overnight,” he said.

Senators Francis Tolentino and Sherwin Gatchalian said they would push through with their respective hearings on Tuesday.

“Almost one month na kami nagpre-prepare dito (We've been preparing here for almost one month. It is very important in terms of national security,” said Gatchalian, who is set to investigate Chinese stakes in the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

“We have invited many resource persons from Bangsamoro,” said Tolentino, who is expected to review the implementation of the Bangsamoro Law.

Resource persons who refuse to attend the hearings due to fears of the virus “must give a valid reason,” Gatchalian said.

“For example, they live in the vicinity of persons who contracted the virus. But they have to justify it,” he said.

But the committees will likely “reconsider” proceeding with the hearings should the Department of Health (DOH) “advise to avoid any form of congregation within now to tomorrow,” Gatchalian said.

“We will have to reevaluate again kung merong changes... Ang situation kasi, ang bilis mag-iba,” he said.

(We will have to reevaluate again if there are changes... The situation changes very fast.)

The Senate and the House of Representatives are previously scheduled to adjourn from March 14 until May 3 for their Lenten break.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared on Monday morning a state of health emergency after the number of COVID-19 patients rose to 10 over the weekend, including cases of local transmission. The tally rose to 20 later in the day.

Across the world, the new strain of virus killed nearly 4,000 people and infected more than 110,000, mostly in China where the disease originated.