The Senate budget hearing on the 2022 appropriations of the Department of Health (DOH) was briefly disrupted Wednesday night, after it was learned that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who had stayed several hours at the session hall the day before, tested positive for Covid-19.
The revelation prompted Senate leaders to announce that all senators who were physically present at the hall when Lorenzana defended the Department of National Defense budget on Wednesday, their staff, including the legislative pages, must undergo testing.
Lorenzana got tested because he “had come from a green country,” Sen. Pia Cayetano explained to her peers.
Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said they might shorten the period within which RT-PCR tests are taken before officials attending budget hearings enter the Senate premises to only 24 hours from the usual 72 hours. “I think that’s the safest.”
Zubiri said the development “might have implications” on the chamber’s schedule as it is rushing budget hearings. It had targeted being able to take a second and third reading vote by next week.
Zubiri, who made the disclosure on Lorenzana’s Covid infection as Sen. Joel Villanueva was set to pose his own questions on the DOH budget, noted the irony of that development: they had been in the same room, engaging the whole of Wednesday, all the key DOH officials, unaware of who might possibly be spreading the infection further.
Zubiri quipped, “it’s comforting to be in the company of all the doctors here, including the vaccine czar,” referring to Secretary Carlito Galvez.
As a result of the disclosure, several senators passed up their chance to interpellate the sponsor of the DOH budget, Sen. Pia Cayetano.
Sen. Bong Go, chairman of the Health Committee, said he has no questions and fully supports the DOH’s 2022 budget.
At press time, only two senators, who were attending virtually, were lined up to ask questions: Francis Pangilinan and Richard J. Gordon.
The senators poked fun at Senators Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Francis Tolentino, because they were the ones closest to Lorenzana during Tuesday’s DND budget hearing, and spent several hours with him.
Dela Rosa, who had contracted Covid during last year’s budget hearing, took it in stride. Cayetano said Dela Rosa has little to fear because the antibody test he took earlier showed his level of antibodies at “1,000” or five times over the level deemed satisfactory. “At 200 daw, good ka na,” Cayetano said.
Zubiri had also contracted Covid in the 2020 budget hearings; same with Sen. Sonny Angara and Koko Pimentel. Other senators who subsequently got infected were Bong Revilla and Gordon.
Image credits: Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB via AP