House ready for special session amid virus crisis

Alan Peter Cayetano

AMID the threat of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) the House of Representatives will continue to function but with a limited number of attendees, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said adding that they are just waiting for the President to order the legislature to hold a special session.

If there is a special session, Cayetano said, they would have to amend the rules to limit the people going to House plenary in order to lessen the chances of spreading the virus.

“Congress will continue to function albeit with all the precautions including social distancing,” he said.
 
The House leader said in the coming days some committees will conduct hearings but will not invite the public to watch,

“Congress will help through the communications, we will be holding hearings but not the usual hearings na napapanood niyo, it will be more round table style, we will only have four, at most five members of Congress present,” he stressed.

Only one department or agency will be called by the House and only five staff can be brought in, he added.

Yesterday, Speaker Cayetano called for a press conference limited to a few members of media to set an example how social distancing is being practiced in this time of health crisis. Other media members watch him on Facebook Live.

For the special session, if President Rodrigo Duterte called for it, Speaker Cayetano said they are ready anytime.

“Then ang botohan ay electronic and through Facebook transmission or media na lang yung discussions, if and when there are urgent bills na kailangan ipasa,” he added.

Among matters to be discussed in the special session is the approval of a supplemental budget that will be used by several agencies in

Unnecessary

An opposition solon said there is no need for Congress to hold a special session to pass a supplemental budget for the fight against the coronavirus. Instead the President can utilize the contingency fund and traditional calamity fund to address the worsening COVID-19 situation.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman is strongly opposing the proposal of Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Joey Salceda to call on President Rodrigo Duterte to ask Congress to hold a special session in order to approve a supplemental budget as well as a stimulus package to help those affected by the COVID-19.

According to Lagman the President’s Contingent Fund and the traditional Calamity Fund can be immediately sourced without waiting for legislative authorization.

As provided for in the 2020 General Appropriations Act (GAA), the Contingent Fund of P13 billion “shall cover the funding requirements of new or urgent projects and activities of national government agencies and GOCCs that need to be implemented or paid during the year”.

“Preventing the spread of COVID-19 and the treatment of infected patients fall within the purview of the Contingent Fund,” Lagman said.