Pandemic Problem Areas
There are various legal issues that we may confront during this pandemic. The world is currently grappling with preventing the spread of the virus while at the same time struggling to adapt to a new normal.
Here we list down some legal problem areas we may encounter:
- Violation of health protocols, lockdown and curfew
The national and local government have issued health-related guidelines. Local governments have adopted most of these and imposed other guidelines as well as restrictions. Ignorance of these guidelines and rules does not excuse anyone from compliance. It would be best to be familiar with them specially if you go out.
2. Resistance and disobedience to a person in authority or agents of such person under Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code
At this time, law enforcers are empowered and emboldened in the performance of their duties. A person who resists or disobeys a person in authority, or agents of such person when given a lawful order may be prosecuted.
Note that persons in authority include judges, prosecutors, lawyers in actual performance of duties, mayors, councilors, and barangay chiefs. Agents of persons in authority include police officers, barangay kagawads and tanods.
3. Engaging in hoarding, profiteering, manipulation of prices and product deceptions and other pernicious practices affecting the supply and movement of food, clothing, hygiene and sanitation products, medicine and medical supplies, fuel and other articles of prime necessity under Republic Act No. 11469 or The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
Filipinos have shown their resiliency through entrepreneurship. Many have engaged in selling various products to cope with the need to earn a living during this crisis.
Remember that in no instance should entrepreneurs deceive customers as to the quantity, quality or price of product. Hoarding of basis necessities is likewise prohibited. The law imposes a fine of P10,000 to P1,000,000.00 and/or imprisonment for two (2) months for violations.
4. Creating or spreading false information regarding COVID-19 crisis, having no beneficial effect or causing chaos, panic, fear or confusion, on social media and other platforms under Republic Act No. 11469 or The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
Think before you post, click or share. Everyone should exercise discretion and be responsible netizens on social media. Exercise caution with information posted online. Verify and validate. Otherwise, face prosecution and a penalty of a fine amounting to P10,000 to P1,000,000.00 and/or imprisonment of two (2) months for violations.
5. Participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts under Republic Act No. 11469 or The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
Scammers beware. The penalty under the law is a fine amounting to P10,000 to P1,000,000.00 and/or imprisonment of two (2) months for violations.
6. Non-cooperation of the person or entities identified as confirmed, probable or suspected COVID-19 case under Republic Act No. 11332 or The Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
Honesty is the best policy. Even more during this pandemic. Never has honesty been more crucial as a life-saving virtue. A simple lie can endanger a community. Under the law, everyone is mandated to honestly declare travel history, symptoms, exposure to confirmed, probable or suspected COVID-19 cases and other necessary information required by public and/or health officials. The law imposes a penalty of P20,000.00 to P50,000.00 and/or imprisonment for one (1) to six (6) months for violations.
7. Unauthorized disclosure of private and confidential information pertaining to a patient’s medical condition or treatment under Republic Act No. 11332 or The Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
Health officials, personnel and public officials must maintain the confidentiality of confirmed, probable or suspected COVID-19 cases. Persons who have access to the names, addresses, contact information and other information that can identify the affected person should not disclose these to anyone. The law imposes a penalty of P20,000.00 to P50,000.00 and/or imprisonment for one (1) to six (6) months for violations.
8. Labor and Employment Concerns
a. Wage-related issues
Section 5 of DOLE Labor Advisory No. 17, series of 2020 allows employers and employees to voluntarily agree and in writing to temporarily adjust employees’ wage and wage-related benefits. This adjustment should not exceed six (6) months or the period agreed upon in a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
b. Illegal dismissal
According to the Labor Code and cases decided by the Supreme Court, in case of termination of employment due to retrenchment or closure or cessation of business operations, you must submit a written notice to the employee and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Regional Office at least thirty (30) days prior to the effectivity of the termination. Aside from this notice, you must give separation pay of one month OR at least one-half month pay for every year of service, whichever is higher, a fraction of at least 6 months shall be considered as one year. However, in case of closure of business due to serious business losses, the employee is not entitled to separation pay. Failure to observe this, you might face a complaint for illegal dismissal before the National Labor Relations Commission.
c. Constructive dismissal
While the adoption of flexible work arrangement is encouraged by the DOLE pursuant to Labor Advisory No. 09 Series of 2020 or Guidelines on the Implementation of Flexible Work Arrangements as Remedial Measure due to the Ongoing Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019”, placing your employees under forced leave arrangement or temporary layoff or floating status for a period more than six (6) months constitutes as constructive dismissal. After a period of six months, the employer must reinstate his/her employee to his/her former position without loss of seniority rights after indicating the employees’ desire to resume his/her work not later than one (1) month from the resumption of operations of the employer, as provided by the Labor Code.
9. Refusal to provide 30-day grace period for residential rents and commercial rents for MSMEs under Republic Act No. 11469 or The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
Lessors must give a 30-day grace period from the lifting of the community quarantine (ECQ, MECQ, GCQ and MGCQ) for residential rents without incurring interests, penalties, fees and other charges. The same grace period is also granted to commercial rents upon Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and sectors not permitted to operate during the community quarantine.
As defined by Republic Act No. 6977 or “Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)”, small and medium enterprise is “any business activity or enterprise engaged in industry, agri-business and/or services, whether single proprietorship, cooperative, partnership or corporation whose total assets, inclusive of those arising from loans but exclusive of the land on which the particular business entity’s office, plant and equipment are situated, must have value falling under the following categories:
Micro : Not more than P3,000,000
Small : P3,000,001 to P15,000,000
Medium : P15,000,001 to P100,000,000”
The cumulative rent shall be equally amortized for 6 months following the end of the grace period. However, you may also opt to grant reprieve or totally or partially waive your rents during the community quarantine. Refusal to provide the 30-day grace period might hold you liable for a fine of P10,000 to P1,000,000.00 and/or imprisonment of two months, under RA 11469. However, Department of Trade and Industry Memorandum Circular No. 20-12 or “Guidelines on the Concessions on Residential Rents; Commercial Rents of MSMEs” only provides for a fine of P10,000.
It is important to note that the grace period for the payment of all loans including but not limited to salary, personal, housing and motor vehicle loans, as well as credit card payments, is a minimum of 30 days from due date or until such time that the ECQ or MECQ is lifted, whichever is later. This grace period does not cover GCQ or MGCQ as stated in the Inter-Agency Task Force for The Management Of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 38, Series of 2020.
10. Contract-related issues
Considering that the pandemic resulted in a disruption in the operation of businesses and life and life in general, commitments in contracts may have been affected as well. Breach, delay, negligence, fraud may occur triggering the operation of penalty clauses in contracts.
There may be issues on the application of force majeure clauses to obligations and contracts.