Solons seek lifting of limited personal presence in sessions, allow 50% attendance

Published November 4, 2021, 10:12 AM

by Ben Rosario

Several lawmakers want the House of Representativers to lift restriction in the personal participation of its members in plenary hall proceedings amid preparations for the resumption of regular session on Monday, Nov. 8.

House of Representatives plenary 2

Deputy Majority Leader Jesus “Bong” Suntay (4th District, Quezon City); Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino (Lone District, Tagaytay City) and Mike Defensor (Anakalusugan Partylist) believe that it is now time for the chamber to allow more lawmakers to participate actively on the floor through their presence in the plenary.

Earlier, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco issued a statement declaring his support to move down the COVID 19 alert level in Metro Manila to a rung lower, saying that this would trigger a “broader reopening of the economy.”

The House leadership limits the vast plenary hall to the presence of only 25 congressmen per session since the pandemic erupted last year. The rest of its members may participate in regular session via zoom conferencing.

There are a total 307 members of the Lower House.

Virtual sessions have been slammed by several lawmakers who noted the swift passage of a number of bills, including measures granting legislative franchises to firms engaged in gambling thru “E-sabong” amid the economic crisis.

It will be recalled that Deputy Speaker and Buhay Partylist Rep. Lito Atienza complained of being ignored by the presiding officer when he tried to raise a point during a debate. He swore raising his hands by hitting the zoom button for the purpose but was never called to state his manifestation.

Suntay proposed a 40 percent face-to-face regular session attendance while Tolentino wants at least 50 percent “like the allowable capacity in churches.”

“Actually, a 100 percent personal presence can be accommodated with safety measures still being followed. We can use the gallery and restrict non-legislators from entering the hall,” said Tolentino.

Suntay said the 25 head personal presence has been observed in the past 18 months now because the leadership “wanted to protect members and staff from COVID 19 infection.”

“But as almost all if not all the members of the Lower House and the staffs are already fully vaccinated, I believe its about time that we allow more members to participate on floor deliberations in person,” he pointed out.

Suntay stressed: “The most important work of legislators are done in the halls of Congress, while the members have not been remiss in their duties and have actively participate din our virtual sessions, it is my opinionthat legislators would be able to express their intentions more and communicate better if they are physically present.”

Defensor backed the personal participation of congressmen in plenary deliberations so long as “we follow the protocol of social distancing.”

“Iyong antigen test before entering is also effective mechanism to avoid covid positive individuals,” said Defensor who used to represent QC’s District III.

Under current rules being imposed by Secretary General Leandro “Dong” Mendoza, no person, not even House members, is allowed to enter offices and the plenary hall without first getting a ‘negative’ result in antigen test sites in the Lower House lobby.

Defensor said the number of lawmakers to be allowed in the plenary should depend on the “two to three meter’ social distancing protocol being imposed by the government.