Officials from executive branch to face Senate hearing on COVID-19
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate is looking to convene itself into a committee of the whole for a “full-blown” hearing where officials from the executive department can update senators on the government’s response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which has so far killed over 600 nationwide.
It was Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto who broached the idea during Tuesday’s “hybrid” session.
Recto stressed that it was “important” for senators to conduct a hearing where the executive branch could brief senators on the actions the government had taken and its plans to addressing the problems inflicted by the current health crisis.
“Making this recommendation would be relevant to the current problems that we are facing. I’m sure the public is waiting for the response of the Senate and what we can do to help the executive branch respond to the crisis),” the senator, who participated in the session via teleconferencing, pointed out, speaking partly in Filipino.
Recto proposed that the hearing of the committee of the whole could tackle one coronavirus-affected sector per day.
“Maybe we can do it by topic. For example, on Monday, it could be all about health. And on Tuesday, it could be about food agriculture or economics. On Wednesday, it could be on [social assistance]. Something like that,” he said.
“I think we have to look at this in a larger context. It is primarily a health issue that has become an economic issue. This is not only oversight on the Bayanihan [to Heal as One Act], but it is also to inform us, representatives of the people, what government plans to do moving forward,” he added.
The status of the social amelioration program, the country’s testing capacity, and the economic stimulus plan could be tackled during the hearing, according to Recto.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Joel Villanueva, who also attended the session through video conference, backed Recto’s proposal.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who was physically present to preside over the session, asked Recto to come up with a complete proposal on how the hearing would be conducted.
“Instead of deciding on what to do now, I suggest that we sleep on it. Give me a proposal, a complete proposal tomorrow for the body to consider,” Sotto told Recto.
“We will try to ask the executive department on when the resource persons are available — the ones that you would want to invite — and perhaps schedule it on Tuesday or Wednesday next week to convert a session into a committee hearing,” the Senate president said.
Officials from various government agencies could be invited to the hearing, he added.
They would come from the Department of Finance, the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Economic and Development Authority.
The Senate has already shifted to a “new normal” after it amended its rules to allow teleconferencing during plenary sessions and committee hearings.
Metro Manila and other high-risk areas remain under an enhanced community quarantine until May 15 while a general community quarantine has been in place in moderate to low-risk provinces since May 1.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Philippine health officials have confirmed 9,684 COVID-19 cases nationwide. Of the number, 1,408 have so far recovered and 637 have died.
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