Rep. Martin: House to perform mandate via online sessions

THE 302-strong House of Representatives is committed to perform its mandate, especially with the swift passage of the economic stimulus package by holding an online session when it resumes on May 4 should President Rodrigo Duterte decide to extend the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said on late Tuesday afternoon.

Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, strongly backed Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s order for the House of Representatives to continue holding productive virtual sessions like what Congress did during the special session last March 23 when it passed the Bayanihan Heal As One Act to defeat the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID) pandemic.

“I just want to echo the statements of the Speaker that we have successfully passed the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act,” Romualdez responded during the question and answer portion with House media of Tuesday’s Defeat COVID-19 Committee (DCC) technical working group (TWG) meeting of the economic stimulus package cluster that he presided via Zoom.

“We will use and resort to the technology [as] we have [done] before…as you know close to 300 members of [the House of Representatives] participated in the last special session so we feel that while the challenge is difficult, it is not impossible for us reconvene, and perform our duties,” Romualdez assured.

Cayetano said the House of Representatives would adjust to the situation using technological advancements without compromising its mandate to deliver various important legislative measures that would respond to the crisis.

“Yes there’s a new normal…[but] under the Constitution we have to reconvene…I think [on] May 4. So definitely magko-convene,” said Cayetano in response to a reporter’s query.

“Kung naka-Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) pa lalo na’t we’re in Metro Manila and Quezon City specifically, maaaring online pa rin ‘yung gagawin naming session,” the Speaker stressed.

“So we’re playing it by ear and waiting for the President’s announcement on April 30,” said Cayetano. “Regardless of the new normal, we commit that Congress will be relevant, reliable, and responsive. Don’t worry about the process.”

“Just like what we did in the Bayanihan Act, we will hold sessions to pass important legislations kahit abutin ng umaga. Sana mapag-aralan pa ng mas mahaba, but like in the US it took them several days to tackle their economic stimulus program, pero kulang pa rin,” said Cayetano. “We will continue to be relevant and will do our part in helping the Filipinos survive these trying times.”

Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero urged the Cayetano-Romualdez leadership and the economic stimulus team of the House of Representatives to extend full assistance to the agricultural sector.

Romero, president of the 54-strong Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc. (PLCF), said establishments primarily engaged in crop and rice production, animal production, harvesting of fish and other agricultural support activities must restart after this April 30 lockdown or our food production will have a problem in a few months’ time.

“Crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture and forestry must start by May 1, 2020 but with COVID-19 safety protocols. We must test every probable and suspect case of COVID-19 in every city, town, and province. All of them. No exceptions. No excuses. We must crush and squash the spread of COVID-19 now,” Romero stressed.

“I say, we go full throttle on lockdown measures under peacekeeping mode. I agree with President Duterte. With the State of Emergency as legal basis, what we need to stop COVID-19 now is a full-scale red alert peacekeeping mobilization of the military and police until April 30 covering Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon. Not martial law.

Their mission would be to make citizens stay at home and to secure all hospitals, temporary quarantine facilities, supermarkets, and public markets,” Romero explained.

Manila Teachers party-list Rep. Virgilio “VG” S. Lacson, the chairman of the House committee on micro, small and medium enterprise development, recommended the need to relax the ECQ in selected areas to allow small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) and informal entrepreneurs to resume business activities in their respective localities.

The Lacson panel released a committee report containing the recommendations that was submitted to the House leadership last April 21.

Lacson said the relaxed community quarantine should be assessed and implemented up to the barangay level as they are in the grassroots know the needs of their community in order for their people to survive the problems during COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the recommendations, local government units (LGUs), in coordination with the Department of Health (DoH), must identify all persons under monitoring (PUM) and persons under investigation (PUI) and create a quarantine facility for each LGU to isolate said persons and minimize the risk of spreading the virus while waiting to be tested and for its results.

COVID-19 positive patients that are discharged by the hospital but still need further isolation must continue to be quarantined in the facility until safe to go back to their homes, it said.

In addition, the report said community transport and logistic system by LGU's, delivery drivers and their companions need to be immediately tested (rapid test twice a week) and bimonthly use of the diagnostic Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing to assess and control the risk of movement of individuals.

Lacson said the recommendations aim to address the looming economic crisis brought about by COVID-19, especially considering the long term effects of the currently implemented community quarantine.