The Law on Christmas during a Pandemic

The Law on Christmas during a Pandemic (Updated December 2020)

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, 2019, our updates have been quite subtle. However, this year, we all know that our Christmas will be different, and perhaps even our outlook towards the world. Thus, we updated this article for Christmas 2020 to include recent issuances and additional regulations that are relevant, as we celebrate the festivities 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There is also an old and repealed law, Republic Act No. 946 dated 20 June 1953, which outlawed working on Christmas day and New Year’s Day.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Republic Act No. 946 was eventually repealed by the Presidential Decree No. 442 in 1974, as amended, which we now know as the Labor Code of the Philippines.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 is Proclamation No. 845 issued on November 15, 2019, declaring December 25, 2020, a Friday, as a regular holiday and December 24, 2020, a Thursday, as a Special Non-Working Day. So too was December 31, 2020, a Thursday, as a special non-working holiday in Proclamation No. 845. Recently, the President issued Proclamation No. 986, declaring New Year’s Day or January 1, a Friday, as a regular holiday. Since January 1, 2020 is a legislated public holiday, you can expect a long respite for this 2020 Holiday Season.

Celebrating Christmas During the Pandemic

This year, have you been naughty or nice? We know you have been nice! We also know that you have been indoors for the most 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. Know this – your Christmas celebrations are still governed by them.

As of December 1, 2020, in a Memorandum issued by the Office of the President, Metro Manila, Batangas, Iloilo City, Tacloban City, Lanao del Sur, Iligan City, Davao del Norte and Davao City, are to remain under GCQ for the entire month of December. The rest of the country will be under modified GCQ, though local governments may declare stricter quarantine measures at the local levels. Therefore, if you are from Metro Manila or any of these parts, Christmas for you will be a little more different (and more restricted) than the rest of the Philippines.

Note that curfews are still in place for both GCQ and modified GCQ areas. The wearing of BOTH facemasks and face shields while in public areas have also been mandated by the IATF.  

For both areas under GCQ and modified GCQ, kiddies under 15 and seniors 65 years and up, and others with comorbidities or health risks, are still mandated to remain in their residence, except for enumerated instances and activities.

Some have the Christmas tradition of booking hotel staycations for the holidays. Unfortunately, during this pandemic, these are generally still not permitted in GCQ areas. As for holiday shopping, malls and shopping centers are allowed to open, but in limited operations. The rest of the leisure and service establishments continue to be closed.

Mass gatherings are still prohibited for GCQ areas, with the exception of religious gatherings, which shall be allowed up to thirty percent (30%) of the seating capacity. The rest of the country under modified GCQ will be allowed mass gatherings, movie screenings, concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment activities, religious services, and work conferences, provided that participants shall be limited to fifty percent (50%) of the seating or venue capacity.

As regards payment of holiday pay, workers rejoice, particularly those whose companies are open and operating during the pandemic. In Labor Advisory No. 31 issued on 28 November 2020, the Department of Labor and Employment mandated that employers who were allowed to defer payment of the holiday pay of their employees… are required to pay all covered employees of the deferred holiday pay equivalent to 100% of their daily wage, and that covered employers shall pay the qualified employees the deferred holiday pay on or before 31 December 2020.

This means that if you are an employee whose holiday pay was deferred, you can expect a lump sum on or before 31 December 2020.

However, in Labor Advisory No. 32 issued on 07 December 2020, the Department of Labor and Employment clarified that establishments that have totally closed or ceased operation during the community quarantine period are exempted from the payment of holiday pay for December 25, 2020 and December 30, 2020.

As regards 13th month pay, under Labor Advisory No. 28 issued on 16 October 2020, the employer is required to pay the 13th month pay on or before December 24, 2020. In addition to this deadline for payment, the employer is already required to submit a report of their compliance with the law to the neared Regional Office of the Department of Labor nor 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, for violations of Republic Act No. 11469, Republic Act No. 11332, which are penalized with imprisonment and/or fine, among others.

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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