The Law on Christmas during a Pandemic

The Law on Christmas during a Pandemic Edition, Year 2 (Updated November 2021)

Yes, you read the title right. There is a law on Christmas in the Philippines, and especially during this pandemic.

If you are not aware, we update this article every year, as our yearly Christmas tribute. Last year, 2020, our updates have been quite substantial. Last year, we all experienced a different kind of Christmas. Our outlook towards the world has changed.

This year (and as with every year), we hope that Christmas will be better. To a certain extent, it has been this year, and we pray that things will look a little brighter.

Thus, we updated this article for Christmas 2021 to include recent issuances and additional regulations that are relevant, as we celebrate the festivities still amid COVID-19.

Despite all the difficulties this worldwide pandemic has brought, let us remember what Christmas is all about – hope.

We hope you will enjoy and find this article relevant.

Old Laws About Christmas in the Philippines

But just so you are aware, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, there is an Executive Order issued by the President, under the authority conferred by “the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Forces in the Philippines…” to observe Christmas Day, which is the 25th day of December, as a national holiday.

There is also an old and repealed law, Republic Act No. 946 dated 20 June 1953, which outlawed working on Christmas day and New Year’s Day. Back then, it was illegal and criminal (subject to certain exceptions) to work during our most favorite holidays, and employers who violate this law are slapped with either a fine or imprisonment, or both.

The Philippine Labor Code and Christmas

Republic Act No. 946 was eventually repealed by the Presidential Decree No. 442 in 1974, as amended, which we now know as the Labor Code of the Philippines.  Christmas Day (and other holidays) were lumped together into the term “holiday”, and employees became entitled to compensation, which we now know as “holiday pay”. However, the Labor Code did not actually use the term “Christmas Day”. Instead, the Labor Code defined the term “holiday” to include “the twenty-fifth and thirtieth of December”.

The 13th Month Pay Law, the Administrative Code of the Philippines and other Laws on Christmas

The 13th Month Pay Law

Less than a year after the Labor Code’s enactment, and just a few days shy away from Christmas day, Presidential Decree 851, also known as the 13th Month Pay Law, was implemented. This law is probably the most well-known piece of Christmas legislation. More importantly, the law specifically mentioned Christmas as its raison d’etre, stating that “the Christmas season is an opportune time for society to show its concern for the plight of the working masses so they may properly celebrate Christmas and New Year.” As everyone knows, it is mandatory for covered employers to provide eligible employees a 13th month pay.

Executive Order No. 292, also known as the Administrative Code of the Philippines

After the Labor Code was enacted, there was Executive Order No. 292, also known as the Administrative Code of the Philippines, issued on 25 July 1988. It became clear under the Administrative Code, from a strict legal viewpoint, that what we are celebrating on 25 December of each year is Christmas Day, and that it is a regular holiday.

Republic Act No. 6686

A few months after came Republic Act No. 6686, and again a few days shy of Christmas day in 1988. This law authorized the grant of an annual Christmas bonus to the national and local government officials, starting 1988.

Republic Act No. 6713

A few years after, the government enacted Republic Act No. 6713. This law prohibited the giving and receiving of presents or gifts to government employees and public officials, with the exception of Christmas and other national festivities, and provided the gift given is modest.

Republic Act No. 9492

Thereafter, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 9492, which “rationalized the celebration of National Holidays” and also amended provisions of the Administrative Code. Obviously, the law retained Christmas Day, December 25, as a regular holiday.

No Law for Christmas Eve

We have yet to see an actual law enacted by the Philippine Congress to declare December 24 as a special non-working day. However, it became a trend for many years now, that December 24, also known as Christmas Eve, is declared and celebrated as a special non-working day. This is usually done by Executive Order or Proclamation issued by the President.

Updates on the Law on Christmas

Year after year, portions of Executive Order No. 292, relating to holidays, are amended to reflect additional holidays, but always retaining December 25, Christmas Day, as a red-letter day.

Update: The most relevant to date are the following:

Proclamation No. 1107 issued on February 26, 2021, declaring December 24, 2021, a Friday, as a Special Working Day, and December 25, 2021, a Saturday, as a Regular Holiday. So too was December 31, 2020, a Friday, declared as a Special Working day in Proclamation No. 1107. This means that Christmas Eve and the Last Day of the Year, which are traditionally Special Non-Working Days, are now regular working days. Well, these days may not really be “regular” working days in the sense that all will be working with a sense and feel of the Christmas and New Year’s festivities.

Recently, the President issued Proclamation No. 1236, declaring New Year’s Day or January 1, 2022, a Saturday, as a regular holiday. With December 31, 2021 declared as a working day, there is certainly a working day gap between the regular holiday on December 30, 2021 and January 1, 2022. 

A word of caution: just remember that if you are absent from work on the day previous to the holiday, your entitlement to holiday and premium pay for the following day may be affected. 

Celebrating Christmas During the Pandemic, Year 2

This year, have you been naughty or nice? We know you have been nice! We also know that you have been indoors for a significant part of the year, strictly complying with the issuances of the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 (IATF), the Department of Health, and the local governments.

Having went through several nationwide lockdowns, we have all become familiar with the terms General Community Quarantine or GCQ, and Modified General Community Quarantine or modified GCQ.

Currently, Metro Manila and some parts of the Philippines are now under what we call GCQ Alert Level 2. This year, we have also learned to live by those granular lockdowns that are imposed once in a while. Know this – your Christmas celebrations are still governed by them.

As of November 4, 2021, the IATF issued Guidelines in the Implementation of Alert Levels System for COVID-18 Response in Pilot Areas, reclassifying the COVID-19 Alert Levels System into Alert Levels 1 through 5, with 5 being the most severe. The Guidelines specify the following variances in Alert Levels:

a. Alert Level 1 – refers to areas wherein case transmission is low and decreasing, total bed utilization rate, and intensive care unit utilization rate is low.

b. Alert Level 2 – refers to areas wherein case transmission is low and decreasing, healthcare utilization is low, or case counts are low but increasing, or case counts are low and decreasing but total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate is increasing.

c. Alert Level 3 – refers to areas wherein case counts are high and/or increasing, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at increasing utilization.

d. Alert Level 4 – refers to areas wherein case counts are high and/or increasing, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at high utilization.

e. Alert Level 5 – refers to areas wherein case counts are alarming, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at critical utilization.

Beginning November 5, 2021, Metro Manila was downgraded under Alert Level 2. If you recall, this is barely a week from the declaration placing Metro Manila under Alert Level 2.

The downgrade came at a time when the Philippines was witnessing a decline in COVID-19 cases. The hope is that the decline will continue, and the reopening of various industries will be hastened, thereby jumpstarting the economy of the Philippines.

GCQ Alert Level 2 allows most businesses to operate, but subject to operational capacity and compliance with required health protocols. Let us hope that this level is maintained, or even better, downgraded to Alert Level 1, as this would mean that the levels of COVID-19 transmission has been determined to be low.

 The rest of the country will be under varying levels of GCQ, though their respective local governments may declare strict granular lockdowns at the local levels. Therefore, if you are from these parts where strict granular lockdowns have been declared, Christmas for you will be a little more different (and more restricted) than the rest of the Philippines.

Note that curfews in areas like Metro Manila, declared under GCQ Alert Level 2, have been lifted, subject to regulations that the local governments may impose. Some cities in Metro Manila have dropped the use of face shields. However, the wearing of facemasks while in public areas are still required by the IATF.  

For areas under GCQ Level 2 and lower, kiddies under 15 and seniors 65 years and up are already allowed to go to commercial establishments. However, certain businesses can only entertain guests that are vaccinated.

Intrazonal and interzonal movement is already allowed. However, the local governments may impose reasonable restrictions to ensure the safety of their constituents. 

Some have the Christmas tradition of booking hotel staycations for the holidays. Fortunately, under GCQ Alert Level 2, these are generally permitted, subject to minimum health protocols imposed by the local governments and regulatory measures implemented by the IATF.

As for holiday shopping, malls and shopping centers are allowed to open. The downgrade of Metro Manila and some parts of the Philippines also come with it the opening of businesses that were not previously allowed to operate. Amusement parks or theme parks, recreational venues such as internet cafes, billiard halls, amusement arcades, bowling alleys, skating rinks, archery halls, swimming pools, and similar venues are already allowed to operate, but still subject to government regulations. Cinemas and movie houses are likewise allowed to operate. For the kids and kid at heart, funfairs, playgrounds, playrooms, and kiddie rides are already permitted to operate.

Gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household are already permitted.

Permitted venues for social events such as parties, wedding receptions, engagement parties, wedding anniversaries, debut and birthday parties, family reunions, and bridal or baby showers, up to capacity restrictions imposed by the IATF, are already allowed. 

As regards payment of holiday pay, the same regulations apply. Recently, the Department of Labor and Employment issued Labor Advisory No. 18 Series of 2021 on 25 October 2021, reminding companies that “employers shall pay the 13th pay on or before December 24, 2021.”. With this reminder, workers should rejoice because compliance has been set and cast in stone, with a Report of Compliance to be submitted by the employers not later than January 15, 2022. In contrast to last year’s issuances, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that no request for exemption from payment of 13th month pay, or for deferment will be allowed or accepted.

The report of their compliance with the law is to be filed by the employer to the nearest Regional Office of the Department of Labor not later than January 15, 2021, containing the name of the establishment, address, principal product of business, total employment, total number of workers benefitted, amount granted per employee, total amount of benefits granted, and the name, position and telephone number of the person giving the information.

Violating the Laws on Christmas is a Crime

Are there any penal provisions, like in the repealed Republic Act No. 946, which punishes offenders if these laws on Christmas are violated? Yes there are.

First, aside from being included in the naughty list of the Department of Labor and Employment, the Labor Code penalizes violators with a fine or imprisonment, or both, at the discretion of the Court. Second, if the violator is really naughty, there is a provision in the Revised Penal Code which punishes those “offending religious feelings” with imprisonment, for those who shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.

Lastly, violations of any of the guidelines issued by the IATF may lead to a slew of criminal and administrative cases. To be sure, this is something not even Santa Clause will even want you to have.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to All!

About Nicolas and De Vega Law Offices

If you need assistance in cybercrimecivil or other criminal law-related issues,  we can help you. Nicolas and de Vega Law Offices is a full-service law firm in the Philippines.  You may visit us at the 16th Flr., Suite 1607 AIC Burgundy Empire Tower, ADB Ave., Ortigas Center, 1605 Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines.  You may also call us at +632 84706126, +632 84706130, +632 84016392 or e-mail us at info@ndvlaw.com. Visit our website www.ndvlaw.com.

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