By Charissa Luci-Atienza
As it seeks to amend its rules on the conduct of sessions and committee hearings to allow House members to virtually attend the plenary session on May 4, the House of Representatives vowed on Sunday (May 3) to fast track the passage of measures seeking to strengthen the government’s response against COVID-19 pandemic.
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said they will prioritize the passage of the proposed P700 billion economic stimulus package under the Philippine Economic Recovery Act (PERA), the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020, and the proposed “New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020.”
“We are going to hit the ground running. Time to roll up our sleeves once again and work double-time to pass anti-COVID-19 measures. This is our commitment to support all the efforts of President Duterte to win the COVID-19 battle and ensure the country’s survival from the pandemic,” Romualdez, co-chairperson of the Defeat COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee (DCC), said in a statement.
He said the House is also eyeing to extend the life or validity of the 2020 national budget, considering the pandemic “has caused significant delays in the downloading and implementation not just of infra [sic], but other projects and programs.”
He said passage of the proposed PERA and the CURES Act of 2020 will be prioritized to “mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19 and ensure business operations and support employment retention,” and “to fund a nationwide extensive job creation program, particularly on infrastructure projects,” respectively.
“We also expect DCC’s Peace and Order and Health and COVID-19 Response clusters to push possible legislation or recommendations to the Executive department to battle COVID-19,” Romualdez said.
They will also tackle House Bill (HB) No. 6623 or the proposed “New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020,” which calls for the establishment of policies and regulations for the new normal way of life.
The bill is principally authored by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte.
“The House will deliberate various pending COVID-related bills and resolutions to help government response in curbing the pandemic’s effect to the economy and the general public, especially to the labor force,” Romualdez said.
He also said congressmen will also roll up their sleeves to pass the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience, which is now pending in the plenary.
Virtual plenary sessions, committee meetings
In a radio interview, Romualdez disclosed the House rules on the conduct of sessions and committee hearings will be amended, since the present rules do not provide for videoconferencing.
He noted that Cayetano requested that only 25 House members be allowed to physically attend the plenary session on Monday.
“For reasons of exigency and the health and safety of our members and the public, we re going to amend our rules and limit to 25 lawmakers the physical attendees to the Session Hall and the rest will join us via video conferencing on Zoom,” he said.
He said he will make a motion that House members can register their presence or signify their desire to participate and vote in the plenary via text or online through apps like Zoom and Viber.
“House can adopt a resolution or the recommendations of the House Rules Rewiring Committee or we can make a motion in the Plenary to amend or to change the rules as we did in the last special session,” Romualdez said.
The solons conducted a virtual special session on March 23 when they passed the Lower House’s version of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Act.
“As a matter of precedent, the House will adopt the unprecedented and historic online special session via Zoom application last March 23, 2020 when we passed Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the ‘Bayanihan Heal As One’ Act,” he explained.
Citing section 71 of the rules that provisionally adopted by the chamber, Romualdez said “House members who are attending to their respective constituents can be considered on official business approved by the speaker and those who are participating in the committee meetings shall be deemed present.”
He said the current House rules do not prohibit them from adopting innovations that would aid their legislative work during this time of pandemic.
“In fact, it is now imperative for us to use the technological advancements due to the national public health emergency,” he said.
He said rules are laid down to “ensure the efficiency and productivity of House members to discharge their duties as representatives of the people and legislate properly.”
“The rules are not meant to be obstacles or to stonewall us to do our duties. All we have to do is to innovate and use the available technology that will allow us to perform our mandate. That is now the new normal,” Romualdez said.
“Public safety is our number one concern. We are not going to compromise the health of everyone,” he said.
Romualdez said among the bills expected to be passed on third reading are an Act Encouraging Corporate Social Responsibility, Providing Incentives Therefor; An Act Providing for the Restructuring and Condonation of Unpaid Interests, Penalties, and Surcharges on Loans Secured by Farmers, Fisherfolk and Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries from Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA), People’s Credit and Finance Corporation (PCFC), Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), National Food Authority (NFA) and the Quedan and Rural Credit Guarantee Corporation; Institutionalizing and Enhancing the Role of Parent-Teacher and Community Associations in Promoting the Welfare and Protecting the Rights of Children and Youth, and others.
He noted that the bills creating the Department of Water Resources and Services and the Water Regulatory Commission, and measure on Fire Protection Modernization Program, and Additional Solo Parents Act have yet to gain the nod of either the House Committees on Appropriations or the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Romualdez also said that among the House-approved measures that were transmitted to the Senate were the creation of the Department of Filipinos Overseas and Foreign Employment, Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA), Corporate Income Tax & Incentives Rationalization Act (CITIRA), Real Property Valuation and Assessment, and Public Service Act.
He added that the House also ratified a measure institutionalizing a National Values, Etiquette and Moral Uprightness Program.