THE Senate on Monday, May 4, adopted a resolution amending its rules to allow the conduct of committee hearings and plenary sessions through video and audio conference and other reliable electronic platforms.
Fifteen of the 24 senators, led by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, were physically present at the Senate upon the resumption of session Monday, following a break of over one month.
Six others, including Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, participated in the session through video conferencing.
Senate Resolution 372 amends Rule 11, Section 22 and Rule 14, Section 41 of the Rules of the Senate to allow senators to convene and hold committee hearings and plenary sessions “through teleconference, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means, using appropriate information and communications technology systems, due to force majeure or the occurrence of a national emergency which may prevent the convening of the Senate or the physical presence of its members in the session hall.”
Drilon stressed that this amendment applies only during a national emergency and is not the new normal in the Senate.
Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who sponsored the resolution, noted that the Philippines is under a state of public health emergency and state of calamity due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
“I do not have to anymore remind our colleagues the danger of Covid-19. I personally had contracted this disease. I feel that I had gotten it on March 11, the last day, when we had so many visitors - mayors, councilors - and probably, possibly, there was an asymptomatic patient here,” he said.
Zubiri said he suffered from a mild form of the disease. Two other senators, Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, had also contracted the virus.
Angara is again under isolation after he tested positive again for the novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the disease, although he said his doctors believed that what were detected were just remnants of the virus.
Several Senate staff have also contracted the virus, including those from the offices of Senators Risa Hontiveros and Ramon Revilla Jr.
Rapid antibody tests conducted Monday on Senate staff also yielded over a dozen positive results, Zubiri added.
He also noted that some of the 24 senators have health issues and are elderly.
Under quarantine guidelines, people who are 60 years old and above as well as those with health conditions should avoid going out of their homes because they are most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
“If I’m not mistaken, probably by Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest, we would already breach the landmark number of 10,000 cases. So , this virus is still out there, lurking in every nook and cranny, every corner of Metro Manila, NCR,” Zubiri said.
He also noted the importance of allowing work-from-home arrangements fro the Senate’s over 3,000 staff. Over 80 percent, or 8 in 10, take public transport to report to work, Zubiri said.
“If we can work from home and they (staff) can work from home, it would also decongest the Senate from any possible contamination and spread of the virus, which will also help lessen the problem with our national health services,” he added.
The resolution also mandated the Senate secretary to "recommend the appropriate information and communications technology system and, upon the Senate President's approval, oversee the setting up thereof.”
The Senate secretary was also urged to "provide for relevant safety measures to protect the integrity 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.” (MVI/SunStar Philippines)