The House of Representatives returns to a post-holiday break session with strict health and safety protocols in place amid the ongoing threat of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said these protocols are necessary to protect House members and employees as the legislative chamber “continues to fulfill its mandate of producing laws designed to improve the lives of Filipinos”.
“We needed to step up our health and safety protocols in the House so we could keep the legislative mill running.”
“This is not the time to be complacent. We needed to step up our health and safety protocols in the House so we could keep the legislative mill running even in the midst of what has been described as the worst surge in COVID-19 cases in the country,” Velasco said.
After it resumes session on Monday, the House will adjourn on February 5 in time for the start of the campaign period for nationally-elected positions on February 8.
“We only have three weeks or nine session days to finish some priority measures before we adjourn for the election period,” the veteran legislator said.
The seasoned lawmaker said the chamber is expected to pass on the third and final reading HB 10582 or the proposed Rural Financial Inclusion and Literacy Act, which seeks to uplift the lives of the marginalized sectors—small farmers, fisherfolk, and informal workers—by addressing the huge gap in reaching financial inclusivity.
Also up for final reading is House Bill (HB) 10579, which aims to strengthen the field offices of the Commission on Elections by upgrading and creating certain positions, amending for the purpose Section 53 of Batas Pambansa 881 or the Omnibus Election Code, as amended, and providing funds therefor.
The House chief said concerned committees will be working double-time to finalize the proposed Magna Carta for Barangay Health Workers and the National Housing Development Act, as well as the bill assigning health workers in every barangay across the country.
He also appealed to the Senate to act on at least a dozen measures that have already been approved on final reading by the House.
These include the proposed Internet Transactions Act and the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises or GUIDE Act; the bills creating the Medical Reserve Corps, Philippine Virology Institute, and Center for Disease Prevention and Control; hiring of mental health professionals in basic education; increasing social pension of indigent senior citizens; and strengthening data privacy protection.
“We urge the Senate to expedite the deliberations and approval of these measures so we can pass them into law before the campaign period,” Velasco said.
Emerging from a two-week lockdown, the House is expected to intensify the implementation of the HousePass System while plenary sessions will still be done in a hybrid manner.
“Only 20% of the workforce in each department and office in the House will be allowed to report for work.”
He maintained that only 20 percent of the workforce in each department and office in the House will be allowed to report for work starting Monday.
Under the HousePass system, a health and safety officer (HSO) assigned to each department and office can nominate staff members who will be reporting for work on a daily basis. These personnel can then fill out online a digital copy of their health declaration form, after which, will be assigned a QR code.
The code will then be scanned upon entering the buildings at the Batasang Pambansa complex. Only authorized persons, as nominated by HSOs, will be allowed inside the premises.
An antigen test will be administered to those physically reporting for work at the start of every week.
Those who have symptoms or have received a positive test result should consult a physician and self-isolate for at least 7 days, pursuant to the recent guidelines released by the Department of Health.
The sessions shall be held from Monday to Wednesday, with a limited number of House members and Secretariat personnel physically present inside the plenary hall. The rest of the lawmakers shall attend the session through videoconference.
All committee meetings, public hearings, and events in the House shall be conducted via videoconferencing platforms.