‘Very risky’ to hold Senate’s May 4 session in ‘customary manner’ – Drilon

By November 18, 2020 No Comments

MANILA, Philippines — Legislators should no longer convene physically for the resumption of the Senate’s regular session on May 4 as it would be “very risky,” Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said Thursday.

“The 4 May session should be held through teleconference, videoconference, or other electronic means. The convening and conduct of the May 4 session in a customary manner is a high risk,” Drilon said in a statement.

“Amid the risks and uncertainties brought about by COVID-19 pandemic, there is no other option but to temporarily forego the holding of the session in the customary and traditional manner,” he added.

The senator stressed that the Senate would still be able to perform its mandate and fulfill its legislative and oversight function should it hold sessions online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congress is currently in the last few days of its two-month break and is set to resume session on May 4.

Under Senate rules, a quorum can only be declared if at least 12 senators are present in the plenary hall. A quorum is needed before senators can open discussions on the floor.

But due to restrictions triggered by the current pandemic, 15 senators signed and filed a resolution that would amend Senate rules allowing the upper chamber to conduct plenary sessions and hearings via teleconference.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, maintained that the chamber might still need to convene on May 4 with senators physically present.

But Drilon said there is no longer a need to adopt the resolution that aims to amend Senate rules to permit sessions and hearing through a conference call or video.

He cited Article VI, Section 16 (3) of the Constitution, which states that the manner by which the Senate determines the presence of a quorum, conducts its business, and how its members vote is left to its wisdom and judgment.

“Thus, in the same manner, that the House of Representatives convened and conducted the First Special Session of the 18th Congress last 23 March, the 4 May session of the Senate may be called to order and convened through teleconference, videoconference, or other electronic means,” he explained.

Should lawmakers push through with the May 4 session, Drilon said it would be considered as a mass gathering, which is prohibited as Metro Manila and high-risk provinces remain under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) until May 15.

The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes an event as a mass gathering “if the number of people it brings together is so large that it has the potential to strain the planning and response resources of the health system in the community where it takes place,” the senator noted.

“The holding of the 4 May session in the usual manner will be very risky for everyone. The session could drag on for hours, which the WHO considers a high-risk activity,” he added.

According to Drilon, the gathering of close to 100 hundred Senate officials and employees, some of whom may be asymptomatic virus carriers, could potentially add strain to the country’s already overburdened healthcare system.

He added that it could also expose its members, officials, and employees to the virus, particularly those aged 60 and above, which are identified by the WHO as high-risk.

Aside from himself, Drilon noted that there are seven other members of the upper chamber who are 60 years old and above namely Sotto, Senators Richard Gordon, Panfilo Lacson, Lito Lapid, Imee Marcos, Francis Tolentino, and Cynthia Villar.

“It also safe to assume that some Senate officials and employees who will attend the session have comorbidities or underlying health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and other similar ailments,” he said.

“We must, therefore, be mindful of the attendant risks to the members of the Senate, Senate officials and staff, and of the capacity of our local health care system should we persist in holding the Senate session in a manner inconsistent with the rules of the ECQ,” he added.


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TAGS: 2019-nCoV, Coronavirus, coronavirus disease, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, ECQ, enhanced community quarantine, Health, Local news, Nation, NcoV, nCoV update, news, novel coronavirus, Outbreak, pandemic, Philippine news updates, Senate, Senate Minority Franklin Drilon, Senate session, Virus
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