By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Members of the Congress might not be able to convene a joint session in July for President Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) due to COVID-19.
This was one of two “extreme” scenarios Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri saw as the country continues to grapple with the pandemic.
“I can see the extreme scenario na ‘di matutuloy ang State of the Nation Address at magbibigay na lang ng (that the SONA will be canceled and the President will just have a) televised address to the people of the Philippines sa (in) Malacañang, in the safety of his home,” Zubiri told reporters when asked about Congress’ joint session for the SONA and the opening of its regular sessions.
Another scenario, he said, is the holding of a joint session attended only by senators and congresspersons. Under this set-up, Cabinet members, diplomats, and other guests would no longer be invited to limit the number of people in the Batasang Pambansa compound in Quezon City.
“We can do social distancing, gawin natin malalayo yong mga upuan ng mga senador at congressmen (senators and congresspersons would be seated well apart from each other),” he said.
Zubiri believed that the COVID-19 situation in the country is far from over, surmising that Metro Manila will still be under general community quarantine by August.
Duterte recently extended the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and other high-risk areas for COVID-19 until May 15.
Article 6, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution states that the Congress “shall convene once every year on the fourth Monday of July for its regular session, unless a different date is fixed by law.”
Moreover, Article 7, Section 23 mandates the President to “address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.” He may also appear before members of the legislative department at any other time, it stated.
Zubiri, however, said it would be “very impossible” for the government to hold a “business-as-usual” SONA amid threats of coronavirus infection.
He pointed out that President Duterte and key government officials should be protected from risks.
“We have to make sure that the President is safe at all times,” he said.
“Remember, all heads of government office will be there. So if nagka-COVID lahat ‘yan, paralyzed ang gobyerno natin (if all of them contracted COVID-19, our government will be paralyzed),” he added.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Senate on Monday adopted Resolution No. 372 which amends the chambers rule and allows teleconferencing in plenary sessions and committee hearings during national emergencies.
Senators said this will remove questions on the legality of the outcome of the meetings.
The proposal came in the wake of the ECQ, where citizens are mandated to stay home to help curb the coronavirus outbreak.