Congress eyes virtual sessions
Congress plans to hold virtual sessions after a seven-week break to tackle the coronavirus crisis and other issues.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are getting ready to conduct virtual sessions once they resume on Monday, with the lower chamber already releasing guidelines ahead of the May 4 session.
Under the House guidelines, only 25 lawmakers — selected by the Majority and Minority Floor Leaders — will be allowed to be physically present at the session hall, while the rest will participate through video conference.
Video conferencing will also be how House lawmakers will conduct committee hearings, technical working group and administrative meetings, political caucuses and press conferences.
The Senate, meanwhile, has yet to adopt rules that would allow its members to attend sessions and hearings virtually, so Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III is still instructing all senators to be physically present during Monday’s session, where they are expected to pass a resolution amending their rules.
Sotto is also bent on being physically present at the session hall until Congress adjourns sine die on June 5, saying that there are procedures during sessions that cannot be done through teleconferencing.
Congress reopens with a full plate of bills awaiting action, with lawmakers eyeing the possibility of crafting a supplemental budget to add more funds to the government’s COVID-19 response.
Economic officials have said that funds are running low for response measures, with Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado saying that the government has spent P 352 billion of the P 397 billion funds freed up to address the outbreak as of last week.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano told CNN Philippines’ The Source that the chamber is also considering adjustments to the 2021 budget, which by law must be submitted to them between July and August, to see if they can tweak provisions if further aid for coronavirus relief and recovery is needed.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Sotto said in a radio interview on Sunday that they will tackle Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act, which he expects to ease the burden on the executive department’s quest for more funding.
He also said in a radio interview on Sunday that they would prioritize passing measures that would keep the executive department from implementing policies which may be illegal, such as adjusting the opening of the school year from June.
“Kailangan amyendahan kaagad namin ‘yun, gawin naming September or … to any month the President so desires in case of national emergencies,” he said over radio dzBB.
[Translation: We need to amend that by changing it to September or … to any month the President so desires in case of national emergencies.]
The proposed “new normal” bill, which House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and fellow lawmakers sponsored, will also be on the agenda in the lower chamber. The measure gives permanence to rules on the wearing of face masks as well as observing proper hygiene, hand washing, and physical distancing, among others.
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