House leader asks for Duterte to call Congress special session over COVID-19

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 13 2020 02:20 AM

MANILA - A chairman of a House panel on Thursday recommended President Rodrigo Duterte to call for a special session in Congress to decide on government policies, including budget adjustments, to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines.

In a memo from House Ways and Means Committee chair Joey Salceda, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Majority Leader Martin Romualdez were asked to "encourage President Duterte to convene a special session" on the country's battle against the disease, since the 18th Congress is on break.

"This will allow Congress to make such policy actions as may be required to grant the Executive with special powers, appropriations, and other tools whose grant fall exclusively within Congress’s jurisdiction, for the immediate containment of the spread of Covid-19," the memo read.

Salceda also asked Cayetano to "designate a small group to come up -- in consultation with public health experts and economists -- with legislative measures to prevent mass transmission, contain the disease, and mitigate its socioeconomic impacts."

The Albay lawmaker also suggested House rules be temporarily amended to accommodate a virtual session assembly and voting and "set an example for the social distancing measures in place."

"Accordingly, it is recommended that the House Committee on Rules, led by the Majority Leader, draft interpretations of 'quorum,' 'present,' 'floor' and other relevant terms in the House rules commonly understood to mean a physical congregation," he said.

Salceda also asked the House leadership to request health authorities, primarily the Department of Health, to identify triggers for a lockdown of strategically identified areas. 

"Congress may enact broad measures to empower the public health authorities to impose a lockdown once these triggers are met. The House of Representatives may also supplement existing powers in the Local Government Code for local government units (LGUs) who may opt, upon the advice of public health authorities, to impose a lockout and restrict entry into their jurisdictions," he said.

Earlier in the day, the Philippines moved to place Metro Manila under "community quarantine" to combat the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases in the region. The country also raised its Code Red alert status to Sub-level 2, after multiple cases of community transmissions and unlinked clusters were confirmed.

As of Thursday, the Philippines confirmed 52 cases of the disease, with 5 deaths.