Press Release
May 5, 2020

ANC: Early Edition interview of Senator Win Gatchalian with Christian Esguerra on the new norm in the Senate

Q: Good morning Senator Win Gatchalian, thank you for joining us.

SEN WIN: Good morning Christian, good morning to our listeners and viewers.

Q: Yesterday was quite historical for the Philippine Senate. We saw members of the Senate including yourself, I think you were part of those who physically went to the Senate. But many of your colleagues decided to join online. Is this a new norm that we're talking about or is it just temporary during the lockdown and pandemic?

SEN WIN: This is a hybrid setup wherein we will still have physical sessions and plenary discussions. In fact, SP Sotto will be there every single day to moderate and to preside the plenary sessions but the Senators are given the option to participate whether physically or through online or virtually. Some of the Senators like Sen. Angara who are still registering positive with the COVID-19 cannot participate physically but he is asymptomatic so he can participate virtually in the discussions and debates. This will enable him to actively participate in the discussions. This setup will be for the period wherein we still have a national emergency so as long as there is a threat of COVID-19, this will be the setup in the Senate.

Q: So based on the agreement amongst Senators, SP Sotto will be physically present. How about the Majority Leader?

SEN WIN: The Majority Leader will not be present. It is his option to participate or not but yesterday when I talked to the Majority Leader, Sen. Zubiri, he will not participate because of his condition also. He's just recovering from COVID-19. He will be participating virtually.

Q: Isn't this a bit dangerous also for SP Sotto because you know he's not that young anymore and he might be susceptible?

SEN WIN: I don't think he'll agree with that statement. He's strong as a bull, what we're after here is to limit and to reduce participation of our staff so the staff will not participate meaning they will not come to the offices, work from home is being implemented in the Senate. Only skeletal, very few staff participated in the session hall. But SP Sotto will be there to preside and as long as he feels that he's still okay and he's well protected within the Senate, then he will participate. But he can also choose to delegate that. We have Senate Pro-Tempore, Senator Ralph Recto. If he wishes to delegate that to Senator Recto, he can do that.

Q: Do you see such arrangement also happening during the President's state of the nation address?

SEN WIN: This will be definitely a feasible setup for the President especially the President is also at his advanced age and we need him to limit his movements also and to limit his interactions with people so this is a feasible setup even for the SONA. The things are changing very rapidly meaning after May 15, we will be entering the GCQ hopefully. Hopefully, by that time also the situation will start to taper off and by SONA, we'll have a more or less normalized condition for the SONA.

Q: 18 employees of the Senate tested positive for covid-19, is there update? Has there been an increase in the number of infected employees in the Senate?

SEN WIN: Christian, I really have to clarify this, they tested positive for antibodies.

Q: Okay for the antibodies, not the disease itself.

SEN WIN: They did not test positive for covid-19 but they were positive for antibodies whether IgG or IgM, they have antibodies in their system. Meaning the possibility of contracting the virus or had contracted the virus is very high. So they went to San Juan de Dios Hospital to conduct their confirmatory test meaning they have to get their test by PCR. PCR is the only way to determine whether they have the virus or if they have contracted the virus.

Q: So what's certain is that they produced the anti-bodies in response to an infection which is no longer here or around in their bodies?

SEN WIN: Correct. It can be any virus, it can be a previous SARS it can be this covid-19 but they definitely had some form of infection in their bodies. That's why they are responding by producing antibodies that was detected during the rapid test yesterday.

Q: So the rapid test is that a norm already? because you have resumed your session and a lot of senate staff members are coming in and out of the building. So is this a requirement now that everyone needs to get tested using the rapid antibody test?

SEN WIN: We tested this procedure yesterday and I think the next question is whether those who tested positive for the antibody are indeed positive with the covid. If they are indeed positive with covid then I would strongly suggest that the rapid test be a normal procedure already. if not, if they tested negative with covid then we would have to view the entire rapid test concept whether it is a feasible concept for the Senate or not. But definitely what we want is a safe environment in the Senate. Senate is a public place, we get a lot of visitors every day. So we need to make sure that people who come in the Senate are free of infections.

Q: But how often do you suggest that they be tested?

SEN WIN: Assuming that we will continue with this type of hybrid operation in the Senate, we should at least test the skeletal force as well as the regular employees who will come in and also the regular senators with the PCR. It's important the we use the PCR because this is almost 99% accurate. So if we have the skeletal force that come in regularly and we have our own staff coming in regularly then it's a must that we test them with the PCR so that we will be sure if they have the virus or not.

Q: But some people might criticize the senators, of course there is an increase in the number of the supplies of the PCR testing kits but if you're going to use a lot of them to test the employees of the Senate, that would eat up into the supply?

SEN WIN: In fact Senator Gordon volunteered the Red Cross because the Red Cross can process close to 10,000 tests a day. Because of some logistical issues, I was talking to them yesterday, they were not fully utilizing their 10,000 tests a day in Red Cross. So Senator Gordon volunteered to test the Senate employees. Yesterday, the number of our skeletal force with the regular senate employees did not even add up to a 1,000. So if we could test using the Red Cross test on the employees, only the skeletal, only those who are intending to come on a regular basis will be tested. Then we will have a safer place for the Senate because it's not only the Senators or the employees who can be infected but there are people who do come and visit the senate who can possibly be infected.

Q: With that arrangement are people allowed per say, go to the gallery and observe the proceedings or during at this point in time that's not feasible?

SEN WIN: No, we're not allowing the public to come in yet. If you go the Senate now, we've set-up a lot of mitigating measures; plastic screens, thermal scanners at the entrance and at conspicuous places but we're not allowing the public yet to join the gallery. However, because of this hybrid set-up, meaning we'll be using teleconference as a means to discuss and debate in the plenary, this will be open to the media and the public virtually so they will be able to watch and observe the session via teleconference.

Q: I'm just a bit curious here, based on a number of hearings, there have been instances where some senators would confront some resource persons who kept on consulting with their lawyers and staff, sometimes the situation ends up where it's the consultant who actually who's supposed to answer already, parang ganun yun nangyayari parang mas alam niya eh? But if we're doing teleconference, will that mean that there would be fewer cases of confrontation, you would be more lenient with the resource persons?

SEN WIN: Well yesterday, Senator Lacson brought this up, whether we will allow in aid of legislation, investigations in aid of legislation, and the answer to that is No. we will only plenary discussion and the regular hearings but investigation in aid of legislation will be suspended for now precisely because there are things that we have to do physically. For example, when you take your oath to speak the truth you need to be there physically because that cannot be done virtually, if you are cited in contempt and you'll be placed in a holding area, obviously you cannot do that in a teleconference so we will suspend investigations in aid of legislation through teleconference for now until we find a better method. But we will pursue discussions in the plenary as well as regular hearings through teleconference.

Q: We understand that the relatives of the 18 senate employees will also be tested, would they be tested for free? And number two, is there a so-called Bayanihan to Heal as One Act part two? Basically another stimulus package in the works, in the Senate?

SEN WIN: Number one is the contact tracing, as we speak they are doing contact tracing now. Those people who tested positive with antibodies. But the most important procedure now is they tested for PCR and awaiting results. In fact, one of my staff tested positive with antibodies so we're waiting for her results. We are now in self-quarantine and if they test positive with corona virus then we will pursue testing their relatives not with rapid test kits but with PCR already and the Senate will initiate the PCR test. Second, the Bayanihan Act, we're still monitoring the report of the President, yesterday we received the sixth report. So far when we we're talking among ourselves through a caucus yesterday, there is no news whether we will have another Bayanihan Act to be implemented, meaning we don't have any news whether a supplemental budget is needed as of this point. We don't any news whether a new stimulus package will be needed as of this point. Right now what we are monitoring is the implementation of the current Bayanihan Act. Next week I think we'll have a better picture whether we will have a stimulus package or a succeeding Bayanihan Act to to tackle this issue. So next week will be very crucial because that will be the last week of this ECQ.

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