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Senate adopts rules for ‘hybrid’ sessions, hearings amid COVID-19 threat

The Senate officially approved to hold "hybrid" sessions and hearings amid the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines after amending the rules of the chamber on Monday.

Adopting P.S. Resolution No. 372, adjustments had been made in Senate Rules 11 and 14 to allow committee hearings, meetings, and plenary sessions through "teleconferencing, video conference, or other reliable forms of remote or electronic means" in the presence of force majeure and occurence of a national emergency, as may be determined by majority of all members of the Senate.

During the course of hybrid plenary sessions, senators may vote, sponsor committee reports, and participate during the interpellation and period of amendments, regardless if their attendance is physical or online.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, earlier said he will be physically present at the Senate building to preside every session day until Congress adjourns sine die on June 5.

The teleconference means would also not apply to complex Senate inquiries in aid of legislation, according to Sotto.

As Congress resumed on Monday, 15 senators were physically present at the Senate session hall while eight others have been allowed to join via teleconference after the said resolution was adopted.

Detained Senator Leila De Lima was not allowed to participate via electronic means because she was under the jurisdiction of the Philippine National Police, according to Sotto.

The whole Philippines was placed under a state of calamity over COVID-19 in March. This declaration will last for six months unless earlier lifted or extended by the President.

President Rodrigo Duterte also signed a proclamation declaring a public health emergency over the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

An enhanced community quarantine is in place over Metro Manila and other high-risk provinces until May 15.

Fifteen senators filed the Resolution No. 372 last Monday, considering the strict quarantine protocols that are still in place all over Metro Manila and other high-risk provinces due to the health crisis. All senators were made co-author of the resolution during the plenary session.

Three senators have tested positive for COVID-19 in March—Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senator Koko Pimentel, and Senator Sonny Angara.

All of them have already recovered but Angara recently disclosed that he tested positive again for the virus, hence he decided to undergo another isolation period.

At least 14 employees of the Senate yielded positive results in the rapid tests for COVID-19 screening prior to the conduct of the session. They will undergo confirmatory PCR-based testing.

As of May 4, the Philippines recorded 9,485 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 623 deaths and 1,315 recoveries. -NB, GMA News