Senate to convene in ‘physical’ special session for COVID-19 funds: Sotto

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 19 2020 11:58 PM | Updated as of Mar 20 2020 12:17 AM

MANILA - The Senate will “physically” convene in a special session either on Saturday or Monday to deliberate President Rodrigo Duterte’s request for a P1.6 billion supplemental budget to fund the government’s fight against the novel coronavirus, 2 senators said on Thursday evening.

“Most” senators have committed to be “physically present” in the special session even while Luzon is placed under a month-long quarantine.

"Most [senators] will be physically present,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III told Senate reporters in a text message.

“I can convene on Monday... [but we will] try to convene on Saturday,” he said, noting that the “President wants to start distributing cash come Wednesday.”

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who chairs the Committee on Rules which facilitates sessions, will not attend the special hearing after he tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“I will be on sick leave,” Zubiri told ABS-CBN News.

Sotto has yet to clarify why he prefers to have a physical session instead of deliberating the measure through teleconferencing, given that the national government mandated restricted movement in Luzon to avoid further spreading the coronavirus.

Former Special Assistant to the President, now Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, said House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has also committed to “tackle and pass appropriate measures granting a supplemental budget” for COVID-19.

“Both houses of Congress have expressed their commitment to find ways to respond to the needs of the people, especially at this time when decisive government action is imperative,” Go said in a statement.

“Based on our discussion, the priority is to ensure that additional funds can be allocated for immediate healthcare needs and for much-needed financial and food assistance to Filipinos, particularly the vulnerable sectors, daily wage earners and informal economy workers affected by the strict quarantine measures being imposed,” he said.

Cayetano earlier said that the nearly 300-member House may convene online and cast votes electronically, but has yet to confirm if the system is already in place or if there is a change of plans.

The Philippines is under a state of calamity as the government had to tap into quick response funds to provide basic goods like food and medical equipment to frontline workers battling the disease.

The government also needs more funds to support indigent families who have no income due to the mandatory suspension of public transportation, malls, and other non-essential establishments in areas under quarantine.

In the Philippines, the global pandemic has infected 217 patients, 17 of whom died, 8 recovered, while the rest are still recuperating from the disease.

Globally, COVID-19, which originated from Wuhan, China, had killed 8,000 people and infected 200,000 others.