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Why Congress should go on long recess

Republika

FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao

On January 12, the government of Malaysia announced a state of emergency, suspended its parliament and state legislatures after a surge in coronavirus cases that threatened to overwhelm the country’s health system.


Before the suspension of its parliament, Malaysia had some 155 infections and 594 deaths. According to Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in suspending political life, the government has the power to take over private hospitals as government facilities become overwhelmed, and get extra help from the military and police.


He said that the emergency will remain in force until August 1, or earlier if the number of covid-19 cases fall.


Why am I telling this?
It is because it is about time for the Philippines to take a drastic move to fight the insidious plague as what Malaysia has done. Of course, such a move would encounter strong objections from our legislators and the noisy human rights groups.


These are difficult times and difficult times need difficult decisions.
Compared to Malaysia, we have a more serious problem; we have over half a million cases and some 10,000 deaths. The daily update on Covid infections issued by the Department of Health may not even be accurate because of the lack of free testing facilities.


Not all public hospitals have free testing facilities while in private laboratories a swab test would cost from P3,500 to P4,000, which is not affordable to most Filipinos. So, figures given by the DOH only refer to those tested in laboratories. What about those untested but are already positive?


Extended recess


I know that the word “state of emergency” is anathema to most Filipinos. It conjures violation of our basic rights. Thus, if we cannot adopt what Malaysia has done, the two houses of Congress can perhaps pass a resolution to go on an extended recess for the duration of the pandemic or until after the majority of Filipinos would have been vaccinated.


By doing this, the whole government can now focus on fighting the coronavirus and legislators who are fond of hearing their own voices can no longer sidetrack the government’s efforts to deal with the situation.


In fact, the claim by some senators that its hearing on the vaccine procurement has resulted in a reduced price of Sinovac vaccine is disingenuous. If there is a reduced price of the China-made vaccine it is the result of the recent visit here of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.


Cavernous Senate


Some years back, I worked as a media consultant of one of the senators. That is why I know that the Senate building is cavernous, is low-ceilinged, and its hallways narrow. The Senate session hall is crammed during hearings especially now that glass cages have been installed.


The virus is as tricky as it is deadly. It stays in the air and could infect senators as well as attendees in the hearings. No wonder four senators, Migs Zubiri, Aquilino Pimentel III, Sonny Angara and Ronald dela Rosa, have been infected but fortunately, they have recovered. But the next time around could be deadly.


The House of Representatives, even with its high ceilings and spacious session hall, has also had some infections and deaths in the past. Thus, I propose that both houses of Congress should go on an extended recess so that the government can work unobstructed in fighting the coronavirus.


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