Senate halts session for 2 weeks, shifts to virtual hearings

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 03 2020 09:29 PM

Senate President Vicente Sotto III looks on the television monitor to see who are virtually attending the second day of the 2nd Regular Session of the 18th Congress Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The Senate passed on third and final reading the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act to allow the government to continue its COVID-19 response and help the affected sectors recover from the impacts of the pandemic. Joseph Vidal, Senate PRIB

MANILA - The Senate on Monday agreed to implement a 2-week lockdown from August 4 to 19, forcing committees to hold online hearings as the chamber heeds the call of frontliners for a "time out."

The Senate unanimously supported Senate President Vicente Sotto's proposal to impose an enhanced community quarantine in the chamber to heed the call of doctors to keep people off the streets to give the government an "opportunity to recalibrate strategies."

"The medical community has appealed for the return of stricter quarantine because they sense we are losing the battle against COVID-19," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said as he expressed the opposition's support for the Senate lockdown.

"The health workers are tired but they soldier on because that is the oath they made... The battle is not theirs to conquer alone. We serve by their side," he said.

The Senate's enhanced community quarantine will lead to the suspension of the chamber's session until mid-August, and force committees to temporarily abandon a hybrid system, and instead hold hearings online.

"It will be confined to the Senate as a whole, not only the senator's offices but the entire secretariat," Sotto said.

The only committee hearing exempted from the enhanced community quarantine in the Senate is the investigation on the alleged anomalies in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PhilHealth), Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.

"Senators who would want to be physically present and resource persons, more particularly whistleblowers," may be required to come to the Senate, Sotto told reporters in a press conference.

Senators who will also attend the bicameral conference to finalize the details of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) will also be allowed to have a face-to-face meeting with their House counterparts, the Senate President said.

But Sotto clarified that the Senate leadership can call for a session "anytime" should there be an urgent matter that needs to be tackled in plenary.

Aside from the Senate, the Supreme Court has also declared a 2-week enhanced community quarantine for all courts and other offices under its jurisdiction to heed the distress call of medical workers who have been overworked due to the COVID-19 crisis.

President Rodrigo Duterte has also placed Metro Manila and other nearby provinces under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine staring on August 4.

The decision to reimpose stricter quarantine policies in the capital region comes days after the Philippines breached the 100,000 mark, with at least 106,000 COVID-19 cases, surpassing the number of coronavirus patients in China, where the disease originated.