MANILA – A lawmaker on Thursday requested President Rodrigo Duterte and the House leadership to convene a special session of Congress to tackle necessary legislative measures, as well as funding requirements, to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
In an aide-memoire addressed to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda suggested that a “virtual” session, including virtual voting, be convened to remain consistent with social distancing efforts by the Department of Health (DOH), adding that this could be achieved by amending the House rules.
Salceda said among the key health measures that need to be discussed is the proposal creating a comprehensive health emergency management framework through the establishment of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another important bill is the PHP1.65-billion supplemental budget for the DOH to address the Covid-19 threat. The bill has hurdled committee level this week before Congress went on a legislative recess for Lenten break.
“Hindi po pwedeng naka-recess ang Kongreso habang may national crisis (Congress should not be on recess while there is a national crisis). There are policy levers that are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Congress, such as appropriations and granting special powers to the President,” Salceda said.
Salceda said the House leadership should also request the DOH to identify triggers for a lockdown of strategically-identified areas.
He warned that without meaningful intervention, the number of infected persons could swell up to 50,300 by May.
“There are critically needed interventions. Ang estimates po ng opisina ko, kapag hindi tayo nag-lockdown, at hindi natin binigyan si Presidente ng special health emergency powers, posible pong umabot sa 50,300 cases (The estimates of my office show that without a lockdown and no special health emergency powers granted to the President, the cases could possibly rise to 50,300),” he said.
“By all accounts, this will infect hundreds, if not thousands. Fortunately, 80 percent of those infected have only mild symptoms, so mababa po ang fatality (so the fatality rate is low). Pero kailangan handa ang public health facilities natin (But our public health facilities should be fully equipped), so Congress needs to be ready to back up the executive in the crucial two months,” Salceda said.
He noted that based on data from China’s cases, the number of confirmed cases appears to rise exponentially for a period of time, and then tapers off logarithmically.
“The earlier you shift from exponential to logarithmic increase, the fewer the cases will be at the end. Sa China po (In China), work and school were completely locked down in the week of February 20, within one week, cases tapered off to logarithmic increase,” he said.
“So you have to do it really soon because the earlier you do decisive measures, the quicker you reach logarithmic increase instead of exponential,” he added.
Cayetano said the House is willing to amend the legislative calendar and hold sessions during the congressional Lenten break.
The House of Representatives is willing to work. So if you want to change the legislative calendar and the next few weeks gusto niyo magkaroon tayo ng session at ibahin natin ang calendar, payag po (if you want us to have sessions and change the calendar, we’re willing),” Cayetano said.
“The problem is quite complex, that’s why I urge my colleagues: together as an institution, let’s continue working. Let’s have committee hearings, let’s have roundtables, let’s take the precautions, let’s include the Executive Department, let’s come up with executive-legislative solutions, and let’s ask the private sector and business—how we can help—and let’s meet our constituents, and let’s ask the government to release the funds that are needed,” he added.
As of Wednesday, there are 49 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the Philippines including the first Filipino fatality, a 67-year-old woman without any travel history or exposure to the disease.
The Philippines is now under a state of public health emergency after the health department reported the first known local transmission.
With more than 100 countries affected by Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic which means a worldwide spread of a new disease.
The Covid-19 outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 4,200 people and infected over 119,000 worldwide. (PNA)