By Ben Rosario
Only four of the 305 members of the House of Representatives failed to join the Monday resumption of the regular sessions, but just 25 of those who responded to the roll call were physically present in the plenary hall.
With Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano presiding over the historic first in legislative proceedings, the 25 lawmakers physically present and the 276 others joining in via video teleconferencing have to observe the “new normal” standard in regular sessions in an atmosphere of COVID-19 fear.
Aside from the mandatory wearing of face masks and social distancing rules, lawmakers and their staff, together with media personnel, have to abide by rules that bars persons hospitalized within the past 30 days from entering the Batasan compound.
Actually, the spacious plenary hall could accommodate more than 25 lawmakers but the number was limited, reportedly as part of the stringent social distancing standards imposed by the chamber.
Questions over the legality of allowing teleconferencing during regular sessions have been raised by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
Lagman had proposed that the chamber must amend its rules which strictly imposed physical presence of House members during roll call and determination of quorum.
Instead, the 25 congressmen present approved a motion raised by Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez allowing members to respond to roll call, participate in ongoing deliberations and vote through the Internet connection.
In his opening speech, Cayetano underscored the need for Congress to respond to what is truly needed by the country as it deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cayetano said needs raised in the COVID-19 battle should be accurate in order for the legislature to respond accurately and correctly.
“We pass the test only if we are one. In this crisis all around the world, there is no you, there is no I, there is no them, there is no us. It’s either we succeed together or we fail,” said Cayetano.
Privilege speeches were delivered by Reps. Michael Aglipay (Diwa Partylist); Henry Oaminal (PDP-Laban, Misamis Occidental), and Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante of Manila.