HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Tuesday night said the House of Representatives took a break on its Wednesday session as “malasakit” (compassion) to its employees following the spike of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) cases in Metro Manila which claimed the life of Senior Citizens party-list Rep. Francisco “Jun” Datol, Jr.
“The House of Representatives suspended session until Monday, August 17, in response to clamor from House employees who report to work regularly despite the recent upsurge of COVID 19 cases in Metro Manila,” said Romualdez.
Despite the rising COVID-19 cases, mass testing for congressional staff who report for work has yet to be conducted by the House leadership as House Secretary General Atty. Jose Luis G. Montales maintained that there is still no community transmission of the deadly disease at the Batasan Complex.
Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. carried the motion of Deputy Majority Leader and Zamboanga Sibugay Rep. Wilter “Sharky” Wee Palma II to “suspend session until Monday, August 17, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon” after no lawmaker objected to his request.
Datol died last Monday of acute respiratory distress caused by COVID-19. As of 10:30 a.m. of Wednesday, Datol’s case was not officially recorded to the 42 COVID-19 positive cases in the House of Representatives, which earlier claimed the lives of three staff.
Four lawmakers, namely, Bulacan Rep. Henry Villarica and Sulu Rep. Shamier Tan and Deputy Speakers Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur and Mujiv Hataman of Basilan were among those who have caught COVID-19.
Romualdez, chairman of the powerful House committee on rules, said the “session break will give ample time for a thorough disinfection of all offices and facilities in the House of Representatives and give employees a brief respite from the aggravation caused by the spike in COVID cases.”
He explained that “the House leadership decided on the suspension of Wednesday's session only after the chamber approved on third and final reading the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill and four other national bills which are part of the government's COVID response measures.”
“The session break will also enable the various committees of the House of Representative to fast-track the reporting out of all COVID-related measures for plenary consideration when we resume session,” Romualdez stressed.
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte shared the position of Romualdez that the rising COVID-19 cases in the House of Representatives were considered in suspending the Wednesday’s session, but stressed that "Zoom hearings and briefings will continue.”
“The House members and employees have continued to work hard and report physically in Congress even during our break. Even while the Senate declared they will suspend physical hearings on the floor, the house continued to work, deliberate, act and approve urgent measures.
I think one day suspension of plenary sessions is in order to give employees and House members’ time to reboot and ensure safety and health of its members and employees. Plenary hearings with zoom will still continue on the issue of Philhealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation) tomorrow morning (Wednesday),” said Villafuerte.
“All needed bills and measures were acted upon expeditiously. Bicam on Bayanihan 2 will proceed with our counterparts this week. This is to assure everyone the House of the People under the leadership of Speaker Alan [Peter Cayetano] is fully committed and will continue to be responsive to the needs of our people especially this time of the pandemic,” Villafuerte explained.
“Lastly in addition, there are no pending measures that needs immediate action at the plenary at this time because we have acted, tackled and passed all urgent measures. Committee hearings will continue on pending bills and measures," he added.