Sotto: Senate to convene plenary session on Monday, with strict anti-COVID measures in place

Published May 3, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Hannah Torregoza

The Senate has set up additional health and security measures against the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 as it resumes sessions on May 4, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on May 3, Sunday.

According to Sotto, the Senate will require all employees and staff who will come to work at the resumption of the plenary sessions on Monday to undergo rapid testing for COVID-19.

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III  (Ali Vicoy / MANILA BULLETIN)
Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (Ali Vicoy / MANILA BULLETIN)

Sotto said Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson has set up rapid testing areas for the novel coronavirus for all employees, staff, and media personnel who will be allowed to enter starting at 9 a.m. on Monday.

“Lahat walang dapat pangambahan kasi kaya nga ako nag-pasyal last week din, for the information of everyone, especially ng mga kasama ko, ng mga colleagues namin, linggo-linggo, araw-araw, may pumapasok dun sa amin (There’s no need to be worried. I have been to the offices, including last week. And for everyone’s information, especially for my colleagues and my staff, every week, every day, someone goes to our office),” Sotto assured during the interview.

“Skeletal (force) lang pero meron, hindi nawawalan, pati mga sergeant-at-arms. At ang disinfection doon ay constant (It’s a skeletal force, but yes there are people, including sergeants-at-arms. The offices are also constantly disinfected),” he added.

Aside from thermal scanners, Sotto said the upper chamber has also set up disinfectant footbaths at the entrance, as well as in elevators.

Senate personnel is limited to only three persons, and one operator inside elevators, to maintain physical distancing. Others will be told to use the stairs especially if they are going up by one floor only.

The Senate leader also said visitors are still not allowed to enter the premises and members of the media are encouraged to watch plenary sessions via live streaming.

Sotto also stood by his decision to convene the Senate on Monday despite the COVID-19 pandemic, saying senators are constitutionally mandated to follow Congress’ legislative calendar, which means they have to be physically present during the resumption of plenary sessions.

He said only after they approve Senate Resolution No. 372 filed by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, which seeks to amend the rules of the Senate, would they allow the holding of committee hearings and plenary sessions through full teleconferencing and other electronic means.

Nevertheless, he said, he is not forcing those whose health are already at risk to follow and physically attend the May 4 resumption of plenary sessions.

“Like, for example, Sen. (Franklin) Drilon. He might attend on the first day but I don’t expect him to attend kasi alam kong meron siyang pacemaker (because I know he has a pacemaker),” Sotto pointed out.

Sotto earlier said he expects more than 12 senators to be physically present in the plenary session to adopt the resolution. Once approved, the Senate,can immediately shift to holding virtual sessions, he said.

Sen. Lacson, for his part, said he made a commitment to be physically present during the resumption of the Senate session, so he can also introduce an amendment to the proposed resolution.

“Sa aking palagay dapat i-limit (ang resolution) sa pandemic, sa COVID-19. At kung magkaroon uli ng ganitong katindi, talagang hindi makapunta physically, hindi dahil sa ayaw magpunta or dahil namasyal lang, kungdi talagang ‘di makapunta, gagawa kami ng panibagong resolution (I think we need to limit the resolution to this pandemic. Because if this happens again in the future, and nobody can really attend physically—not because they do not want to go, but because they cannot—then we need to come up with a new resolution),” Lacson said in a separate interview over Radio DZRH.

“Parang napaka-encompassing masyado ang ‘in cases of force majeure and state of emergency’ automatic teleconferencing kami agad…kailangan i-limit namin (to allow teleconferencing ‘in case of force majeure and state of emergency’ is too all encompassing…we need to limit it),” he pointed out.