Sen. Franklin M. Drilon said that convening and holding Senate sessions through teleconference, videoconference, and other electronic means would strike a balance between fulfilling the Constitutional mandate and duty of the Senate and the government’s efforts in preventing the further spread of Covid-19.
“Amid the risks and uncertainties brought about by Covid-19 pandemic, there is no other option but to temporarily forego the holding of session in the customary and traditional manner,” Drilon said in a statement on Thursday, April 30.
“The Senate would still be able to perform its role as the duly elected representatives of the people and fulfill its legislative and oversight function in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic if it were to hold its sessions through teleconference, video conference or other electronic means,” Drilon said.
The Senate is set to resume session on Monday, May 4.
Drilon said the Constitution and the Rules of the Senate do not prohibit the convening and holding of sessions through electronic means.
“The May 4 session should be held through teleconference, videoconference or other electronic means. The convening and conduct of the May 4 session in the customary manner is high risk,” Drilon emphasized.
Drilon the Senate need not adopt beforehand Proposed Senate Resolution No. 372 that was filed last April 27 by 15 senators. The resolution seeks to allow the chamber to hold plenary sessions and committee hearings through teleconferencing due to force majeure or the occurrence of an emergency.
As provided for in Article VI, Section 16 (3) of the Constitution, Drilon said the manner by which the Senate determines the presence of 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.
Drilon said that the May 4 session will be considered a mass gathering, which is prohibited as Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon remain under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
“If convened and conducted in the usual manner, the May 4 Senate session will certainly require and result in the assembly of Senators, Senate officials and skeleton staff numbering at least a hundred in the Session Hall and nearby work areas, which would violate the ECQ rule on mass gatherings,” Drilon explained.
The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes an event as 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 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,” Drilon stressed.
The gathering of close to 100 hundred Senate officials and employees, some of whom may be asymptomatic carriers, could potentially add strain to the already overburdened healthcare system, he explained.
Drilon added said that it could expose its members, officials and employees to the virus, particularly those aged 60 and above, which are identified by the WHO as high-risk.
There are eight members of the upper chamber who are 60 years old and above, including Drilon himself, 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 added.
“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 manner inconsistent with the rules of the ECQ,” Drilon said.