By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Only 20 members of the House of Representatives are allowed to be “physically present” to participate in the Special Session on Monday, March 23, while the rest will attend the session online.
This was disclosed by Cagayan de Oro 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who earlier proposed a “virtual session” for Congress to expeditiously tackle and pass measures to contain the spread coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) and to grant assistance to the sectors badly hit by the outbreak.
“Only 20 Congressmen have been chosen to be present at the Plenary Hall. The rest of us will join the online discussions and online voting,” he told the Manila Bulletin in a text message when asked if an advisory has been issued on the conduct of the special session on Monday at 10 a.m.
“The names of the 20 Representatives have not been announced. The major political parties, including the party lists, Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, and the Minority bloc will be represented,” Rodriguez noted.
In an advisory, House Secretary General Jose Luis Montales informed the members of the House that they have arrived at a “painful decision to limit to 20 the number of Members who would be physically present at the Special Session on Monday, March 23, at 10 a.m.”
The decision was made “after consultations and deliberation, and with the permission” of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Majority Leader and Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez.
The advisory noted that some members of the Secretariat and the media need to attend the session as well.
“The total cannot exceed 50. We have explained to you in our previous messages the considerations, limitations, and challenges that bear upon this matter. Our decision is constrained by those parameters,” it said.
“To those who will not be physically present, we appeal for your understanding and cooperation, and urge you to attend the session online. We ask you to support the proposed measure by voting via instant messaging,” the advisory said.
The advisory also laid down the options for members to log in their attendance, cast their vote, and even speak during the special session.
It said lawmakers will be invited to a Viber group chat, which will be used to cast their votes on Monday.
“We will use a videoconferencing application called Zoom Cloud Meetings. This application is capable of hosting all House Members with a camera phone, tablet, or webcam, in a videoconference. Debates, manifestations, etc. may be done by video call through this application,” the advisory said.
The House members are encouraged to join the trial videoconference today, March 22.
Rodriguez confirmed this. “We will have a dry run with Zoom app and viber at 10.30 am today,” he said in a text message.
The advisory informed the House members that they may view the special session from their home and will be streamed live on the Facebook pages of the Speaker, the House of Representatives, Congress website, and YouTube.
It said that in the event that the House members do not have Viber by Monday, they will be given designated Globe and Smart numbers so that they can “cast your votes either of these numbers during the special session.”
“We appreciate and value your cooperation for this Special Session. It will be the first time in the history of Congress that a session will be held without everyone inside the same room. Your safety is very important to us, and with the crisis we are in, we have to be creative in safely bringing everyone together to address the current national emergency,” the advisory read. (Charissa M. Luci-Atienza) #