Lack of quorum stalls Senate session on measures against COVID-19

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2020 12:14 PM | Updated as of Mar 23 2020 02:21 PM

MANILA (UPDATE 3) - The Senate's special session meant to bolster the Philippines' fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was stalled for about 2 hours on Monday due to a lack of quorum.

The Senate was supposed to convene in a special session at 10 a.m. to pass a bill that would authorize the executive department to tap funds from government corporations, but under the chamber's rules, a Senate session cannot be held unless half of the 24-strong chamber is present.

"We need to wait for 2 more colleagues," Senate President Vicente Sotto III told colleagues present in the plenary at around 10:30 a.m.

Lawmakers who were present in the session hall at that time were Sotto, acting majority leader Sherwin Gatchalian, senators Pia Cayetano, Christopher "Bong" Go, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Ralph Recto, Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., and Francis Tolentino.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and Social Welfare Rolando Bautista also attended the session as resource persons.

Sotto called a caucus shortly after the special session opened and invited the Cabinet members to the Senate lounge while they waited for other lawmakers to arrive.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri earlier told Sotto that he could not attend the session because he was an identified carrier of COVID-19. Sen. Sonny Angara was reportedly feeling unwell, while Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa earlier told ABS-CBN News that he could not attend the session because he was "locked down" in his hometown Davao City.

"The absence of the minority bloc in the special session is not a boycott," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in a text message.

Drilon, Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan and Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who came in contact with Zubiri, are still on self-quarantine.

"Please relay my request to the Senate media not to sensationalize and not to attribute any meaning to our failure to attend the special session," said Drilon, who had a perfect attendance during the regular session.

"Because of my age and a pace-maker to regulate my heartbeat, I am a high-risk person who must take extra precaution," the 74-year-old minority leader said. 

The Senate Minority bloc earlier asked the Senate leadership to suspend the chamber's rules "so we can go into teleconferencing," Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan said in a separate statement.

"Senate President Sotto informed us the Senate does not have that [teleconferencing] facility," Drilon said.

Other senators have yet to confirm if they will attend the Senate's special session.

The special session resumed around 12 noon after the chamber declared a quorum with Sen. Richard Gordon's arrival.

After a roll call for attendance, the Senate special session was again suspended as the chamber "consolidated suggested amendments" to the bill.

"Sen. Pia [Cayetano] is consolidating all amendments para mas mabilis mamaya (so it will be faster later)," Gatchalian said in a separate message.

As of 2 p.m., the Senate's special session has yet to resume.

The House of Representatives held a similar special session at the Batasan Pambansa, with some members joining the discussion through teleconferencing.