Senate amends rules to allow sessions, hearings online during nat’l emergencies
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate would now allow plenary sessions and committee hearings through teleconferencing as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The senators on Monday adopted Senate Resolution 372 which seeks to amend the Senate rules to allow official proceedings through teleconferencing and other electronic means in the event that a force majeure or the occurrence of a national emergency would prevent the convening of the Senate or the physical presence of its members in the session hall.
Majority of the senators, however, would have to agree that a certain emergency justifies the use of a teleconferencing set-up.
Under the amended Senate rules, senators—in case of a national emergency, as determined by the majority of all the senators—would be allowed to sponsor committee reports, participate during the interpellation and period of committee and individual amendments, and cast their votes virtually.
However, any senator who wishes to deliver a privilege speech may only do so at the plenary hall.
Despite restrictions triggered by the pandemic, the Senate pushed through with resuming its session on Monday with 15 senators physically present.
Meanwhile, seven senators, who opted to attend the session via teleconferencing, were deemed present only after the resolution was adopted.
While teleconferencing would be allowed during plenary sessions and committee hearings under the amended rules, holding Senate inquiries in aid of legislation would still require physical presence, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.
A senator who wishes to be physically present during the conduct of a session may do so.
Sotto, in an earlier statement, said he would physically be at the plenary hall to preside over every session until Congress adjourns on June 5.
He said that while senators would now be permitted to participate in the sessions from their homes, there is still a need for him to be physically present at the Senate as there are procedures that cannot be done via teleconferencing.
“I have the responsibility to ensure that all sessions are conducted as mandated by the Rules of the Senate and by the Constitution,” Sotto said.
He added that senators who would opt to attend the session virtually would need to inform the Senate Secretary or any member of the Secretariat that they would be participating so that their presence can be acknowledged for quorum purposes.
The Senate has already put in place safety measures to minimize the risk of infection among senators, their staff as well as other employees of the Senate.
Among those who physically participated during Monday’s session were Sotto, Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Francis Tolentino, Grace Poe, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Sherwin Gatchalian, Christopher “Bong” Go, Ronald “Bato dela Rosa, Joel Villanueva, Nancy Binay and Richard Gordon.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Franklin Drilon and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Pia Cayetano, Imee Marcos, Risa Hontiveros, Cynthia Villar and Sonny Angara participated virtually.
Detained Senator Leila de Lima was not allowed to participate in the session via teleconferencing due to previous Supreme Court rulings which barred detained lawmakers from attending to their duties as legislators, as earlier pointed out by both Sotto and Zubiri.
At least three senators have so far tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, namely Zubiri and Angara and Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
All of them have already recovered but Angara recently disclosed that he again tested positive for the virus.
Several of the senators’ staff members have also earlier tested positive for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, at least 18 employees of the Senate have tested positive during a COVID-19 rapid test, which was conducted before the resumption of session Monday afternoon.
The said employees have already been brought to different hospitals for isolation. They would also undergo a PCR-based test for validation of COVID-19 infection.
Metro Manila and other “high risk” areas remain under an enhanced community quarantine until May 15 while a general community quarantine has been imposed on moderate to low-risk provinces since May 1.
As of Monday afternoon, Philippine health officials have confirmed 9,485 COVID-19 cases in the country.
One thousand three hundred fifteen patients have recovered while 623 others have perished.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.