Oct 1, 2020

The Life of the Law

For the acts punished under Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the penalty is imprisonment of two months, or a fine ranging from ten thousand pesos to one million pesos, or both, at the discretion of a court of justice.

Jesus Joel Mari Delos Reyes Arzaga, J.D., is a lawyer engaged in private practice, a university professor, and the Vice-President for Legislative Affairs of the Alliance for the Family Foundation, Inc (ALFI). He obtained his Humanities degree and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) and passed the 2018 Philippine Bar Examinations. In 2019, he was selected for advocacy work with the World Youth Alliance in New York, U.S.A., and participated in the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in the United Nations (UN). In the same year, he attended the Moral Foundations of Law Program of the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton University, New Jersey U.S.A. He is a Palaweño and the proud son of former Vice-Governor and former Board Member Winston G. Arzaga and Genevieve D. Arzaga.

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Prohibited Acts under the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act and during the Enhanced Community Quarantine

The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (R.A. 11469), which declared a state of national emergency in the country, and Proclamation No. 929, which imposed an Enhanced Community Quarantine throughout Luzon, are some our government’s official acts to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clear as it may be, that both measures aim to “mitigate, if not contain, the transmission of COVID-19” (Sec. 3, R.A. 11469), it may not be known to the populace that both contain provisions punishing certain acts and providing penalties therefor.

For the acts punished under Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the penalty is imprisonment of two months, or a fine ranging from ten thousand pesos to one million pesos, or both, at the discretion of a court of justice.

While for violations of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, the perpetrator may face criminal or administrative liability, in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.

Thus, in order to avoid facing imprisonment or having to pay a hefty penalty, it is wise to know and understand what exactly these prohibited acts are.

Section 6 of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act enumerates the following acts or omissions as violations, and as such, must be avoided by all:

First, disobedience by Local Government Unit officials of national government policies or directives in imposing quarantine (Sec. 6[a], R.A. 11469).

The act prohibited here is the disobedience by officials of the local government unit (from our Governor to the barangay kagawads) of any proclamation, order, or directive from the national government. This simply means that our LGUs must strictly comply with any measure laid down by the national government in furtherance of the policy declared in R.A. 11469.

Second, unjustifiable refusal by owners and possessors of privately-owned hospitals and medical and health facilities, including passenger vessels, and other establishments, to operate pursuant to the directive of the President (Sec. 6[b], R.A. 11469).

What the law prohibits here is the unjustifiable refusal to operate by private individuals who own and operate hospitals, medical facilities, and other similar establishments, including passenger’s vessels, should they be directed by the President to operate. Note that these passenger vessels shall be operated only to be used as quarantine areas, and not to serve the public in general, as all public transportations are still suspended by virtue of Proclamation No. 929.

Third, engaging in hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, manipulation of prices, product deceptions, and cartels, monopolies, or other combinations in restraint of trade, or other pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution, and movement of food, clothing, hygiene and sanitation products, medicine and medical supplies, fuel, fertilizers, chemicals, building materials, and equipment required in agriculture, industry and other essential services, and other articles of prime necessity, whether imported or locally produced or manufactured (Sec. 6[c], R.A. 11469).

The prohibitions here relate to acts that would impede the free and fair access to basic goods such as food, clothes, medicine, products for personal hygiene, fuel, and other supplies necessary for basic services. Therefore, it is prohibited to hoard (amass and store), profiteer (make an excessive profit) off these goods, manipulate its prices, or engage in any act prejudicial to the unimpeded movement and availability of these goods in the market.

Fourth, refusal to prioritize and accept contracts for materials and services necessary to promote the declared national policy (Sec. 6[d], R.A. 11469).

The law penalizes businesses that will refuse to enter into and give preferential treatment to contracts with the government, subject to fair and reasonable terms when such a contract is essential to advancing the purposes of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

Fifth, refusal to provide the thirty (30)-day grace periods provided under Section 4. (Sec. 6[e] R.A. 11469).

A look at section 4 reveals that there are two kinds of grace periods provided, which if not given, give rise to penalties to the persons or institutions concerned.

The first grace period is a minimum of 30-days to be given by banks, quasi-banks, financing companies, lending companies, and other financial institutions, public and private, including the GSIS, SSS, and Pag-ibig. The grace period is to be applied to the payment of all loans, such as salary, personal loan, housing loan, motor vehicle loan, and even credit card payments, falling due within the period of the Enhanced Community Quarantine. The law clarifies that the grant of the grace period will not incur any interest, penalties, fees, and other charges, and persons with multiple loans are to be given the minimum grace period for every loan.

The second grace period is a minimum of 30-days to be given by lessors or landlords for residential rents falling due within the period of the enhanced community quarantine. This grace period is likewise afforded without payment of interests, penalties, fees, and other charges.

Sixth, creating, perpetrating, or spreading of false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms (Sec. 6[f], R.A. 11469).

Punishable here is the act of knowingly making and spreading false information, or “fake news” about the Coronavirus on social media and other similar platforms. This entails that care must be taken before “sharing” posts on social media. Criminal law expert, and my professor, Judge Marlo Campanilla posits that the person spreading the false news must be aware that the news is false in order to incur criminal liability, following the principle laid down in the case People vs. Hilario (G.R. No. 210610, January 11, 2018).

Seventh, failure to comply with reasonable limitations on the operation of certain transportation sectors, whether land, sea, or air, be it private or public (Sec. 6[g], R.A. 11469).

Under the Enhanced Community Quarantine, mass transport facilities have been suspended, and land, air, and sea travel have been restricted. Thus, those who will violate the guidelines set for the operation of certain transportation sectors are to be held liable.

Eighth, impeding access to roads, streets, and bridges, putting up prohibited encroachments or obstacles, and maintenance of illegal constructions in public places that have been ordered to be removed (Sec. 6[h], R.A. 11469).

This prohibits obstructing free access to public roads and setting up blockages in public places.

Importantly, in addition to these prohibited acts under R.A. 1146, the guidelines on the imposition of an Enhanced Community Quarantine, set forth in a Memorandum from the Executive Secretary provides for at least two more prohibitions:

First, Mass gatherings.

Second, violations of a strict home quarantine that is to be observed in all households, with movement being limited to accessing basic necessities.

These two prohibitions can really be summarized in three words: stay at home.

Unless one is a front-liner, or going out of the house in order to buy basic necessities, we are all supposed to stay within the premises of our homes for the time being. No excuses, no concessions, no special considerations. We all have a part to play, and that is to stay at home to stay alive.

Although the plethora of prohibitions during this coronavirus pandemic seems overwhelming, stringent, and even overly intrusive, it is simply more prudent to obey. For ultimately, what is at stake is our safety and well-being. Let us bear in mind that this temporary curtailment of our usual way of life is a necessary evil to permanently banish this tragedy that is the Coronavirus.

Let us keep our faith, unite in prayer, and trust that good will emerge from this predicament. Omnia in bonum: all things work unto the good!

For comments, suggestions, or legal inquiries, feel free to email me through: joelarzagalaw@gmail.com

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