17th Dec 2018

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Yes, you read the title right. There is a law on Christmas in the Philippines.

The Philippine legal system is a civil law system. This means that the Philippines relies on laws enacted by Congress to govern all matters – including Christmas, our favorite holiday.

Christmas did not just become a holiday in the Philippines by tradition or religion. As with all red letter days and public holidays, there are laws that govern the celebration of Christmas as a holiday. Of course, we need not go far back into the annals of history to appreciate this. It may take us all the way up to the New Year to finish!

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There is also an old and repealed law, Republic Act No. 946 dated 20 June 1953, which outlawed working on Christmas day and New Year’s day.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.

Republic Act No. 946 was eventually repealed by the Presidential Decree No. 442 in 1974, as amended, which we now know as the Labor Code of the Philippines.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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. The most relevant is Proclamation No. 269 issued early this year, 2018, declaring December 25 as a regular holiday and December 24 as a Special Non-Working Day. The most recent is Proclamation No. 555 issued also in August 2018, declaring our favorite holidays as regular, and special non-working days, respectively.

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.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to All!

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