Senate to keep semblance of normalcy despite historic hybrid session: Sotto

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 05 2020 03:43 PM

The Philippine Senate holds its first-ever hybrid session on Monday as legislators adapt to a new normal during the coronavirus pandemic, May 4, 2020. Photo from Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian's official Twitter account

MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday said the Senate would keep several traditions and rules in place to avoid possible Constitutional violations after the chamber allowed online sessions during the coronavirus crisis.

While the Senate allowed hybrid sessions, where senators have the option to participate in proceedings through a teleconferencing platform, members are still "encouraged" to deliver privilege speeches in the Senate session hall, Sotto told reporters in an online press conference.

"To be sure that we are not violating anything in the Constitution, we must retain the physical session," said Sotto who has committed to physically attend all sessions until the chamber adjourns on June 5, 2020.

"Kahit na mayron nang new normal na tinatawag (Even if we have a so-called new normal), still, we must not move the Senate from its house," he said.

Senators Panfilo Lacson and Francis Tolentino has given their word that they would also attend sessions physically, the Senate President said. 

Senators are expected to appear in their usual business attire even if they will participate virtually, Sotto said.

"It is a must that at least 'yung upper body mo is maayos naman (dressed properly) for a session. 'Wag naman (Don't wear a) jogging suit or a t-shirt or a collarless shirt for males," he said.

SENATE INVESTIGATIONS SUSPENDED

While the Senate can hold regular hearings and sessions, congressional investigations will be suspended while the chamber continues its hybrid system, Sotto said.

"Resource speakers need to take an oath that they will say the truth [during Senate investigations]. The oath must be said in person," Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian told ANC in a separate interview.

"If we hold someone in contempt, where they have to be placed in a holding room, obviously, we can't do that with teleconferencing," he said.

The Senate earlier shifted to hybrid sessions for the first time to avoid exposing senators and employees to the highly-contagious COVID-19.

Eighteen of 500 Senate personnel who underwent mandatory rapid coronavirus testing during the reopening of session on May 4 were found to be possible carriers of the disease.

All 18 Senate workers were swabbed to confirm if they are indeed infected with the virus. A staffer from Sen. Richard Gordon's office has tested negative in the swab test while the 17 others are still waiting for results.