Senate eyes 'virtual' or 'hybrid' sessions when Congress reconvenes on May 4: Angara

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 23 2020 06:41 PM

Photo from Senate of the Philippines

MANILA - Sen. Sonny Angara on Thursday said senators are considering several options on how to conduct sessions in light of coronavirus-related policies once the legislature reconvenes on May 4.

Senators have been discussing whether to hold virtual or hybrid sessions, instead of the usual physical sessions, to adhere to physical distancing policies seen to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Angara said in a virtual press conference. 

"It's being discussed right now. There are some strong opinions about postponing actual, physical sessions and kind of do it how we're doing it now which is by Zoom," he said, referring to a video conference application being used by lawmakers while Congress is still on its 2-month break.

"I think we have to find a way to be creative about the rules... It's really risk management," said the senator, who recently recovered from COVID-19.

Angara said his colleagues have been eyeing the possibility of a "hybrid" session as Senate rules "require the physical presence" of at least 12 senators to muster a quorum. 

"So maybe you have to have at least 12... then maybe the others, like those recovering like myself, could be excused from actually being there," he said, noting that this was what the House of Representatives did to pass the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act last month.

Angara said he was "willing" to attend physical sessions, provided that "precautions" will be made to ensure that senators and staff members will not contract the virus.

"I don't think we have testing yet in the Senate so maybe if we have those rapid tests then maybe people would feel more secure," he said.

"Ako, I'm willing to attend basta may precautions with social distancing like there's only 6 microphones. Maybe we could increase the number of microphones so the risk is somehow mitigated," he said.

Aside from Angara, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III earlier tested positive for the disease. Angara and Zubiri have recuperated from the disease, while Pimentel continues to wait for the results of a test that would confirm that he has recovered from the virus.

Three Senate employees also contracted the disease. One of them - who was affiliated with Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.'s office - died due to the coronavirus.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian earlier said that the Senate might temporarily forego the conduct of Senate committee hearings, as these would usually require several guests to participate.

"Feeling ko hindi muna puwede ituloy 'yun (hearings) kasi ganitong mga binbin we have to call people. At 'yun ang mahirap. 'Pag nag-umpisa ka magpatawag ng tao, hindi natin mako-control kung saan manggagaling ang mga tao," he said.

(I think we can't do that yet because that requires calling on people. That's the hard part. When you start calling on people to appear, we can't control where they're coming from.)

Last month, Gatchalian and other senators had to be placed under isolation after a resource person invited to a March 5 Senate hearing tested positive for COVID-19.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said that the legislative calendar cannot be moved, but has yet to give a final decision on whether the chamber needs to adopt a "new normal" once sessions resume on May 4.

Parliaments in other countries have begun to meet virtually as several nations continue to impose lockdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19.