By Ben Rosario
Legal infirmities in the conduct of virtual congressional sessions and committee meetings may still be questioned before judicial authorities and may provide a setback in the passage of legislative measures, especially by the House of Representatives.
This was gathered as Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Saturday called on the leadership of the House of Representatives to address legal issues that might be raised against the holding of sessions via internet that do not require the session hall presence of congressmen.
Lagman called for the adoption of a compromise that will no longer require the physical presence of lawmakers in the plenary hall and committee meeting venues.
“The House of Representatives can approve a resolution amending the rules to allow virtual or electronic legislative process, which resolution can be adopted by the majority of all the Members on May 4, 2020 in a virtual session without the need of physical attendance in view of the continued enforcement in Metro Manila of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown,” he said.
There is no provision for the holding of virtual committee hearings and regular or special session in the current Rules of the House of Representatives.
There has been no approval of amendments to the rules in order to uphold the legality of sessions not requiring the physical presence of lawmakers in the House floor.
So far, the Lower House has passed one measure, the Bayanihan Heal As One Bill, by holding a session that allowed the majority of congressmen to participate through the internet.
The Defeat Covid 19 AdHoc Committee and its sub-committees have been conducting meetings via the popular Zoom apps over the internet.
Lagman said the compromise he offered “will substantially comply with the requirement to first amend the Rules of the House before any change is implemented.”
“The effectivity of the amendatory resolution should be retroactive to the virtual Special Session on March 24, 2020 when the “Bayahihan Act” was approved,” he explained.
The independent solon said the proposed resolution should include a provision that will allow the conduct of virtual plenary sessions and committee hearings “as long s there is a critical need to prevent the resurgence of the Covid 19 viral menace and other similar health emergencies and natural calamites” that prevent the physical presence of House members in the process of legislation.
While Lagman did not specifically state, there has been a growing concern among House members over the conduct of virtual sessions and committee hearings which are not sanctioned by the rules unanimously approved during regular plenary sessions.