Double COVID testing for SoNA attendees

Published July 22, 2020, 3:44 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Attendees to President Duterte’s State-of-the-Nation Address (SoNA) at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City next week will have to undergo two screenings for COVID-19.


House Deputy Secretary General (DSG) Dr. Ramon Ricardo Roque said in a virtual press conference Wednesday that the twin screenings are composed of a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test or swab test on Sunday and a rapid test on SONA day Monday.

“Priority ang swab test para sa mga papasok sa session hall (Swab tests will be prioritized for those going inside the session hall),” Roque said, referring to the traditional venue of the President’s annual speech.

However, as part of the health safety protocols, the number of people who will be allowed at the session hall this year would be greatly reduced. As of Wednesday, the estimate is 127 persons, including solons’ staff and technical staff.

“Kapag nag-positive kahit saan, out na (If you turn out positive in either test, you’re out),” Roque said. He said technical people who will yield a positive result will have an alternate who will also be tested.

But “principals” or lawmakers who will turn out positive will no longer be replaced on the list, he said.

Roque said everyone entering the session hall will be required to wear both a face mask and face shield. Frequently-touched areas at the Batasan complex will be sanitized every two hours, he added.

“We have to limit the number (of people). Everyone has to sacrifice to make this work. The primordial concern is the safety of everyone,” said House Secretary General Jose Luis Montales during the same presser.

Montales noted that while the PCR test was far more accurate than the rapid test, Malacañang had required them to conduct the latter on SoNA day.

A source said that as of Tuesday night, some 25 House officials and congressmen have been chosen to physically attend the July 27 event, which will also coincide with the opening of the second regular session of the 18th Congress.

These are House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano; House Deputy Speakers Johnny Pimentel, Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Dan Fernandez, Raneo Abu, Dong Gonzales, and Rodante Marcoleta; House Majority Floor Leader Martin Romualdez; House Minority Leader Benny Abante; House Deputy Minority Leader Janette Garin; Montales; DSG Brian Raymund Yamsuan; Sargeant-at-Arms Ramon Apolinario; and Reps. Robert Ace Barbers, Michael Defensor, Elpidio Barzaga, Eric Go Yap, Lani Cayetano, Juan Miguel Arroyo, Boying Remulla, Wes Gatchalian, Chicoy Alvarez, Divine Yu, Jonathan Sy-Alvarado, and Bambol Tolentino.

Since the SoNA is delivered during a joint session between the House of Representatives and Senate, senators will also be present at the session hall.

Another major change in the conduct of this year’s SoNA is that mainstream media won’t be allowed to cover it. Instead, the presidential broadcast staff or Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM) will provide them access to the speech as it happens.

Since there will be no reporters near the session hall, the traditional media rush for interviews with the attendees following the President’s speech won’t happen this year. However, Montales said they would try to work out a way for reporters to conduct interviews on the attending solons remotely.

DSG Bobby Maling confirmed that invitations were still sent out to Vice President Leni Robredo as well as former presidents for the event.

“We reserved slots in the galleries for our usual VIPs,” Maling said, but noted that Malacañang will have final say if all invitations would be accommodated.