Published 18 September 2020, The Daily Tribune

The President recently signed into law Republic Act 11494, the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, or more popularly touted as Bayanihan 2 law, providing for a P 165.5 billion fund for priority government programs in hopes of spurring recovery from the pandemic. The fund is supposed to cover spendings for health care resources, cash assistance, agriculture support, and coronavirus vaccines procurement; adequate number of testing centers that provide available, affordable and accessible testing to the public; and the hiring of skilled medical and support workers to address the COVID-19 pandemic, among others.

The law builds up on certain subsidies provided under  Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. Emergency subsidy of Php 5,000 to Php 8,000 is mandated to be given to affected low income households in areas under granular lockdown and to households with recently returned overseas Filipino workers (OFWS).

The same amount is mandated as unemployment or involuntary separation assistance for displaced workers or employees due to COVID-19. These include probationary, project, seasonal, contractual and casual employees in various affected institutions such as private health, culture and arts, creative industries, broadcast, construction, public transportation, trade and industries, cooperatives and other sectors, such as freelancers, self-employed, and repatriated OFWS or whose deployment were suspended due to government-imposed deployment ban, as may be identified by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Bayanihan 2 law also beefed up support for frontline workers. Apart from assuming all medical expenses of public and private workers in case of exposure to COVID-19 or any work-related injury or disease during the state of national emergency as declared by the President, the government shall compensate them or their heirs as the case may be. In case of death of the health worker from exposure to COVID-19, the heirs shall be provided Php 1 million, while Php 100,000 shall be given in case of sickness for severe or critical case, and Php 15,000 for mild or moderate case.

The compensation retroacts from February 1,2020 and any compensation shall be exempt from applicable taxes under the Tax Code. The duty to compensate the health worker or his or her heirs shall survive the expiration of Bayanihan 2 law, on December 19, 2020.

For the financial sector, banks, quasi-banks, financing companies, lending companies, real estate developers, insurance companies providing life insurance policies, pre-need companies, those providing in-house financing for goods and properties, asset and liabilities management companies and other financial institutions including the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the Social Security System (SSS) and Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund) are required to implement a one-time sixty (60)-day grace period for the payment of all existing, current and outstanding loans falling due, or any part thereof, on or before December 31, 2020.

This covers but are not limited to salary, personal, housing, commercial and motor vehicle loans, amortizations, financial lease payments and premium payments, as well as credit card payments, without incurring interest on interests, penalties and other charges until December 31, 2020. Parties may agree to an even longer period.

As with the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the law does not require creditors to not charge interest during the period of deferment; only interest on interest. Hence, it is best to clarify such issues with the creditor to avoid the same questions raised under the first Bayanihan law. Further, the foregoing grace period does not apply to interbank loan and bank borrowings.

It may interest the public to know that for utility bills such as for electricity, water, telecommunications and other utilities falling due within the period of ECQ or modified ECQ, a minimum of thirty (30) days grace period  shall be given without incurring any interest, penalties and other charges. Unlike in loans, it is explicit that interest cannot be charged for this period.

After the grace period, unpaid residential, MSME and cooperatives utility bills may be settled on a staggered basis for at least three (3) monthly installments.   Note that for electric bills, the minimum 30-day grace period and staggered payment shall apply to all payments within the period of the Community Quarantine.

Lastly, a minimum of thirty (30)-day grace period reckoned from the date of the lifting of ECQ or MECQ  shall be granted on both residential and commercial rents of lessees not permitted to work and MSMEs and cooperatives ordered to temporarily cease operations, falling due within the period of the Community Quarantine, without interest, penalty, fees and other charges. All amounts due during Community Quarantine shall be amortized in equal monthly installments until December 31, 2020 without any interest, penalties and other charges. There shall be no increase in rent during this period.

It has been said that the most essential factor to economic recovery is the restoration of confidence. In our country now, more than just economic revival, a holistic re-establishment of dignity, hope and livelihood is essential. One can only hope this law is the beginning.

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