Philippines: House, Senate to hold special session on plans to cushion impact of COVID-19 outbreak.


Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 21) — Congress will convene in a special session on Monday to discuss funding for projects that will provide support for over 16 million families nationwide affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III on Saturday said the special session, which is set to start at 10 a.m., will focus on granting President Rodrigo Duterte authority specifically to realign state funds for food and cash allowances for the affected families.

The projected budget to be realigned could be in the neighborhood of ₱200 billion, Sotto said.

The actual amount, which could be lower or higher, will not be stated in the bill but will be in the implementing rules and regulations after the measure is signed into law. 

The announcement was made following a meeting among Cabinet officials and lawmakers. Earlier, Sotto said he was certain the special session will happen on Saturday, but this was postponed to give way for the meeting.

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go said in a separate statement that the Executive branch will submit a proposed bill “to further empower and give the government the flexibility it needs to address the present health emergency.”

The Senate and the House of Representatives have heeded Duterte’s call to mount a session even though the legislature is on a break. Duterte aired his request earlier this week.

Congress has been on a break since March 13 and will reopen May 4.

Also on Saturday, health authorities reported 77 new cases of the coronavirus disease – the biggest single-day increase since the outbreak began in January. Of the country’s 307 COVID-cases, 13 have recovered but 19 have died.

Duterte has placed the entire area of Luzon under enhanced community quarantine, restricting people’s movement, to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda in a message to 301 other members of the House of Representatives, said they have the option to monitor the session and cast their votes and make manifestations online.

As usual, the special session will be streamed on the House’s website and social media platforms, Salceda said. But unlike before when members have to be physically present so their statements can be put on record, they can now do so through video call.

“It will be the first time in the history of Congress that a session will be held without everyone inside the same room. Your safety is very important to us, and with the crisis we are in, we have to be creative in safely bringing everyone together to address the current national emergency,” Salceda said.

CNN Philippines’ Joyce Ilas and Xianne Arcangel contributed to this report.