Published 16 August 2021, The Daily Tribune

As we know it, the pandemic has not only taken its toll on our health but also on our finances. Consequently, debts in the time of coronavirus are even harder to pay.

Sure, there was the Bayanihan Act 2 which imposed loan payment moratoriums for up to 60 days but as it is, such reprieve can only do so much.

Lately, there were increased reports on harassment and fraudulent schemes of collection agencies and/or other debt collectors in compelling debt borrowers to pay overdue obligations. As it is, the stress of debt borrowers does not only include devising ways to raise funds to repay overdue debts, but likewise include the pestering calls of debt collectors until ungodly hours of weekdays and even weekends, debt shaming, use of threats and other malicious and deceptive acts of debt collectors.

Fret not, as debt borrowers are not without protection from these rude, unscrupulous and harassing debt collectors.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Circular 454 specifically states that banks, subsidiary/affiliate credit card companies, collection agencies, counsels and other agents cannot engage in unfair collection practices. They may resort to all reasonable and legally permissible means to collect amounts due them: provided, that in the exercise of their rights and performance of duties, they must observe good faith and reasonable conduct and refrain from engaging in unscrupulous or untoward acts.”

Under the BSP circular, the following acts are considered to be malicious and/or unreasonable collection practices, to wit:

(a) the use or threat of violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person;

(b) the use of obscenities, insults, or profane language which amount to a criminal act or offense under applicable laws;

(c) disclosure of the names of credit cardholders who allegedly refuse to pay debts, except as allowed under the law;

(d) threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken;

(e) communicating or threat to communicate to any person credit information which is known to be false, including failure to communicate that a debt is being disputed;

(f) any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning a cardholder; and

(g) making contact at unreasonable/inconvenient times or hours which shall be defined as contact before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m., unless the account is past due for more than 60 days or the cardholder has given express permission or said times are the only reasonable or convenient opportunities for contact.

These same foregoing acts are also prohibited by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in its Memorandum Circular 18, series of 2019, particularly proscribing abusive, deceptive and unfair collection practices of financing companies and lending companies. Under the same SEC Circular, any implementation of these proscribed acts justifies the imposition of penalties ranging from P25,000 to P1,000,000, as well as suspension or revocation of the certificate of authority to operate as a financing or lending company. This is without prejudice to other penalties that may be imposed under other relevant laws and regulations, which may include the suspension or revocation of the financing company/lending company’s primary license and/or disqualification of its directors and officers.

Most recently this year, due to these increasing reports of harassment of debt collectors, the Department of Justice-Office of Cybercrime likewise issued a public advisory dated 23 April 2021, enumerating the acts that would qualify as unfair debt collection practices and cyber harassment, and the corresponding violations that victims may file before the appropriate government agencies.

In particular, it was provided that (a) accessing the debtors’ phone book/contacts’ list for purposes of sending them messages in the event of untimely and/or non-payment; (b) posting the debtors’ personal and sensitive personal information online for purposes of shaming them; (c) threatening debtors with death and physical injuries if they fail to settle their account balances; and (d) using profane language through text message directly sent to the debtors and to the debtors’ references for purposes of shaming them, may constitute violations of the following laws, rules and regulations, as may be applicable:

• Republic Act (R.A.) 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, particularly, the offenses of Illegal Access and Cyber Libel;

• RA 10173, or the Data Privacy Act of 2012, punishing the Unauthorized Processing of Personal Information and Sensitive Personal Information, Processing of Personal Information and Sensitive Personal Information for Unauthorized Purposes, and Malicious Disclosure;

• The Revised Penal Code provisions on grave or light threats, grave or light coercions, or unjust vexation, all in relation to Section 6 of RA 10175; and

• The aforementioned BSP Circular 454 and SEC Memorandum Circular 18, series of 2019.

Amid the pandemic, may we be COVID-free and free as well from debt and debt collection harassments.

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