15 senators seek holding of online Senate sessions during quarantine period

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 27 2020 01:50 PM | Updated as of Apr 27 2020 02:20 PM

MANILA - At least 15 senators on Monday filed a resolution seeking to allow the Senate to hold sessions via teleconferencing while the enhanced community quarantine is still in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Under the Senate rules, at least 12 senators must be physically present in the session hall before the body can declare a quorum, which is required before the legislative begins floor discussion.

But under Senate Resolution No. 372, the Senate President may either "postpone the holding of the session" or "convene and hold the session through teleconference, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote electronic means."

"The imposition and extension of an enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region... should not prevent Congress from exercising its Constitutional mandate to enact laws and authorize appropriations," the resolution reads.

The measure also allows Senate committees to "conduct meetings or hearings through teleconference, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means."

The Secretary of the Senate is required to "recommend" an "appropriate information and communications technology system" that the chamber can use to hold committee hearings and sessions, according to the resolution.

"The Secretary of the Senate shall provide for relevant safety measures to protect the integrity of the plenary session and committee hearings, the security and reliability of the technology used, and the proper archiving of the audio-visual or electronic recording of the sessions and hearings as part of the records of the Senate," it said.

The following senators signed the resolution:

- Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto
- Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri
- Minority Leader Franklin Drilon
- Sen. Sonny Angara
- Sen. Nancy Binay
- Sen. Pia Cayetano
- Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa
- Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian
- Sen. Lito Lapid
- Sen. Imee Marcos
- Sen. Manny Pacquiao
- Sen. Grace Poe
- Sen. Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr.
- Sen. Joel Villanueva
- Sen. Cynthia Villar

Coronavirus survivor Angara earlier said that there were "strong opinions" about holding physical sessions, especially after at least 3 senators and 3 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in March.

The 3 senators recuperated, while one of the staff members died due to the disease.

Zubiri, who also recovered from COVID-19, earlier said that the resolution also took into consideration that most Senate employees rely on public transportation - which is suspended during the lockdown - to come to work.

"There is no public transport and 80 percent of the 3,000 employees of the Senate use public transport. Therefore, [they] have no means of going to work every day," Zubiri said.

"The last thing we want to do is expose our members, staff and Secretariat personnel in the legislature and make it spread like wildfire towards the communities where they live," he said.

The Senate is expected to convene physically on May 4 to pass the resolution, and a separate measure to honor the late Sen. Heherson Alvarez, who recently succumbed due to COVID-19.