How legal developments in the Philippines are supporting the economic response

 

In 2020 the Philippines experienced one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns implemented to stem the Covid-19 pandemic. These measures presented significant economic challenges. Indeed, GDP contracted by 11.5% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2020 – albeit at a slower rate than the previous quarter, which saw a drop of 16.9%. Nevertheless, swift action was necessary, and in early March President Rodrigo Duterte declared a State of Public Health Emergency throughout the Philippines. Moreover, the government enacted several laws and regulations aimed at mitigating the economic and health impact of the pandemic, and two major stimulus packages were released to boost businesses’ economic recovery.

Bayanihan 1

The first stimulus, Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 – or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Bayanihan 1) – was signed into law on March 25, 2020. Bayanihan 1 granted special powers to the president to combat the pandemic for the duration of its three-month validity. It also lowered interest rates and reserve requirements for lending institutions. Grace period: Pursuant to Bayanihan 1, a 30-day grace period or extension for the payment of all loans, including credit card payments, whose due dates fell within the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period were made available to borrowers. The Department of Finance and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the central bank, issued their respective implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) on the application of the grace period. Residential rents within the ECQ areas were also subject to a grace period, i.e. without interest, penalties, fees and other charges. Profiteering: To protect citizens from individuals who might take advantage of the Covid-19 crisis for financial gain, Bayanihan 1 empowered the president to enact measures against hoarding, profiteering, injurious speculations, price manipulations, and other harmful practices that affect the supply, distribution and movement of essential goods and services such as food, clothing, medicine and medical supplies, as well as hygiene and sanitation products. Penalties: The penalty of imprisonment for two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 ($199) but not more than P1m ($19,900) – or both – shall be imposed on violators of any of the provisions of Bayanihan 1, or those who fail to comply with its mandates. Notably, in an advisory dated May 20, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it had conducted investigations of financing companies and lending companies that allegedly refused to comply with Bayanihan 1. The SEC further directed financing and lending companies to comply with Section 4(aa) of Bayanihan 1, its IRRs, and all other related legislation, rules and regulations.

Bayanihan 2

RA No. 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2), followed in mid-September 2020, as the government sought to ease the effects of the economic downturn, particularly for businesses most affected by the pandemic – namely micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), as well as those in the transport, agriculture, tourism and telecommunications sectors. Grace period: The terms of the second stimulus package effectively extended the maturity of loans by directing all banks; quasi-banks; financing companies; lending firms; real estate developers; insurance companies providing life insurance policies; pre-need facilities; entities providing in-house financing for goods and properties purchased; asset and liabilities management companies; and other financial institutions – both public and private, including the Government Service Insurance System, the Social Security System and Home Development Mutual Fund – to implement a one-time, 60-day grace period for the payment of all loans falling due, or any part thereof, on or before December 31, 2020, without incurring interest, penalties, fees or any other charges. The grace period also covered credit card payments.

The SEC, through a notice dated September 21, 2020 named “The Implementation of Mandatory Grace Period for All Loans Pursuant to the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act”, confirmed that the mandatory one-time, 60-day grace period shall apply to each loan, whether the borrower has a single loan or multiple loans with the subject financing companies (FCs), lending companies (LCs) or microfinance NGOs (MF-NGOs). Thus, these entities shall not charge or apply interest, penalties, fees or other charges during the mandatory grace period to future payments or amortisations of the borrowers.

Moreover, FCs, LCs and MF-NGOs are prohibited from requiring their clients to waive the application of the provisions of Bayanihan 2, and no waiver previously executed by borrowers covering payments falling due until December 31, 2020 shall be valid. The SEC also clarified that the accrued interest for the one-time, 60-day moratorium may be paid by the borrower on a staggered basis until December 31, 2020. Review of M&A: Under RA No. 10667, the Philippine Competition Act, and its IRRs, the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) shall have the power to review mergers and acquisitions (M&A) that have a direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect on trade, industry or commerce in the Philippines, based on factors deemed relevant by the PCC. This power may be exercised by the PCC either upon compulsory notification or motu proprio, and is in line with the overall policy priority to prohibit M&A that substantially prevent, restrict or lessen competition in the relevant market. Bayanihan 2 stated that all M&A with transaction values below P50bn ($994.5m) shall be exempt from compulsory notification requirements if entered into within a period of two years from the effective date of said law.

The review of M&A dated September 24, 2020 by the PCC clarified that for purposes of determining the transaction value, a proposed merger or acquisition of assets inside and outside the Philippines is notifiable if all of the following conditions are met: a. The aggregate annual gross revenue in, into or from the Philippines, or the value of the assets in the Philippines of the ultimate parent entity (UPE) of at least one of the acquiring or acquired entities, including that belonging to all entities that the UPE controls, directly or indirectly, is P50bn ($994.5m) or more; and b. The value of the transaction is P50bn ($994.5m) or more, which shall be determined as follows: i. The aggregate value of the assets in the Philippines of the acquiring entity is P50bn ($994.5m) or more; or ii. The aggregate gross revenue generated in or into the Philippines by assets acquired in the Philippines and any assets acquired outside the country collectively is P50bn ($994.5m) or more. Thus, M&A deals falling within these thresholds and entered into during the effective dates of Bayanihan 2 may be reviewed by the PCC motu proprio only after one year from the starting date of Bayanihan 2, which took effect immediately upon its publication in the Official Gazette on September 11, 2020. Reprieve for affected sectors: Bayanihan 2 granted the following benefits to various players and sectors in the economy, the most significant of which were as follows: a. MSMEs: The lowering of effective lending rates for interest and reserve requirements of lending institutions that grant credit accommodations to MSMEs and cooperatives, and the waiving of the collateral requirement for loans not exceeding P3m ($59,700); b. Agriculture: The provision of cash or loan interest rate subsidies by the Department of Agriculture to qualified agri-fishery enterprises, cooperatives, farmers, fishers and other agricultural workers; c. Transportation: An allocation of P9bn ($179m) to assist critically impacted businesses, as well as provide temporary livelihood to the sector’s displaced workers and public utility vehicle drivers; d. Education: An allotment of P4bn ($79.6m) to assist the Department of Education in rolling out digital infrastructure and alternative learning modalities; e. Tourism: the provision of loan interest rate subsidies to tourism enterprises; and f. Telecommunications: The temporary suspension of requirements to secure permits and clearances for the construction of telecommunications and other internet-related infrastructure.

Remote Participation

Pursuant to the enactment of the Revised Corporation Code, stockholders and members are no longer required to be physically present or represented by proxies in meetings. In order to implement this policy, the SEC issued SEC Memorandum Circular No. 6, Series of 2020 (MC No. 6-2020) outlining the guidelines on the attendance and participation of directors, trustees, stockholders, members and other persons in meetings through teleconferencing, video conferencing and other remote or electronic means of communications to implement the provisions of the Revised Corporation Code.

Through MC No. 6-2020 the SEC seeks to guide corporations in formulating their internal procedures and by-laws in order to allow directors, trustees, stockholders, members and other persons to participate and vote in meetings in absentia or through remote modes of communication. Notably, MC No. 6-2020 does not limit participation to specific telecommunication devices. In fact, pursuant to the circular, corporations may issue their own internal procedures that will govern participation in board, stockholders’ and members’ meetings by means of remote communication or other alternative modes of communication. They must also take into account the requirements under MC No. 6-2020 on advance notification, quorum, voting, recording and a previous resolution by the board in the case of stockholders’ meetings.

Upon approval of the circular on March 12, 2020, corporations were permitted to conduct board, stockholders’ and members’ meetings remotely for the limited purpose of approving the provisions in their by-laws or internal procedures that would govern participation in meetings by means of remote communication or other alternative modes of communication.

Corporate Donations

To ensure that the acceptance and distribution of corporate donations of health products intended to address the Covid-19 public health emergency were not unnecessarily delayed, the Office of the President, pursuant to Bayanihan 2, directed the consolidation and management of particular donations relating to the Covid-19 pandemic: a. Medicines, medical equipment, supplies and other health products given to the national government or the Department of Health (DOH): These materials are to be coordinated with and transmitted to the Office of Civil Defence (OCD) of the Department of National Defence for consolidation. The OCD shall coordinate with the donors and manage the release of these materials to recipients. b. Medicines, medical equipment, supplies and other health products intended for other government departments, bureaus, offices, state universities, government-owned or controlled corporations, or government hospitals or medical facilities: These may be given by the donor directly to said entities, without need of consolidation by the OCD. Such donations, however, shall immediately be reported by the recipient agencies and instrumentalities to the OCD, and the OCD is given the authority – subject to approval of the presidential adviser of peace, reconciliation and unity – to reallocate these direct donations to other health facilities, beneficiary groups or establishments. c. Perishable goods such as food and goods of nominal value such as accommodation, transportation and other basic necessities for the use and consumption by public officials, employees or health workers for purposes relating to the management of Covid-19: These may be directly donated, without need of consolidation by and report to the OCD.

Issuances for Listed Firms

Several deadlines for the filing of annual reports of publicly listed companies (PLCs) coincided with the implementation of Covid-19 quarantine measures. During the height of the temporary suspension of business operations, deadlines for the submission of annual reports (SEC Form 17-A), audited financial statements (AFS) and quarterly reports (SEC Form 17-Q) for the first quarter of 2020 were extended by the SEC.

Deadlines for the submission of sustainability reports and integrated annual corporate governance reports were likewise extended and, accordingly, submissions of annual reports without the sustainability reports attached were not considered incomplete and no penalties were incurred. The extensions automatically applied without the need for PLCs to file requests for the same. The electronic filing of reports was also mandated prior to the submission of reports’ hard copies in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and due to the temporary suspension of work at the main office of the SEC.

Taxation

Several changes to tax laws and regulations were enacted in 2020. Tax exemptions: Revenue Regulations (RR) No. 6-2020 established that the importation of the following shall be exempt from value-added tax (VAT), excise tax and other fees during the three-month effectivity of Bayanihan 1, unless extended or withdrawn by Congress or ended by presidential proclamation: a. Critical or needed health care equipment or supplies intended to combat the Covid-19 public health emergency, including personal protective equipment; laboratory equipment and its reagents; medical equipment and devices; support and maintenance for laboratory and medical equipment; surgical equipment and supplies; medical supplies; tools; consumables and testing kits; and b. Materials needed to make health equipment and supplies deemed critical to address the public health emergency. Additional supplies or equipment may be determined by the DOH and other relevant government agencies for VAT-free status. Moreover, donations of these imported articles to or for use by the national government or any entity created by its agencies that is not conducted for profit, or to any political subdivision of the government, are exempt from donor’s tax. Extended tax filing: RR No. 10-2020, which was amended by RR No. 11-2020, provides for the extension of statutory deadlines for the filing and submission of any document and the payment of taxes for May and June 2020 pursuant to Bayanihan 1. RR No. 11-2020, which provides that the due dates specified therein would be extended in case of another quarantine extension, was repealed by RR No. 12-2020. Hence, the extended due dates under RR No. 11-2020 shall remain in effect regardless of any extension or modification of quarantine. Since the extended deadlines provided in RR No. 11-2020 remain in effect, taxpayers are reminded to file their returns and pay their taxes on or before the specified deadlines. VAT revisions: Under RR No. 27-2020, the deadline of filing for VAT refund claims whose prescription dates fall within the effectivity of Bayanihan 2 shall be suspended according to the table below. The 90-day processing of VAT refund claims is suspended during the effectivity of Bayanihan 2, or until the adjournment of the 18th Congress on December 19, 2020.

Labour

The year 2020 saw several changes to labour-related laws and regulations. Workplace control of Covid-19: Under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) Interim Guidelines on Workplace Prevention and Control of Covid-19, minimum health standards determined by the DOH are required to be implemented in all workplaces during the ECQ and general community quarantine periods. These minimum health standards include wearing face masks at all time, completing a daily health questionnaire, and recording body temperatures prior to entering buildings and workplaces.

Constant disinfection and the maintenance of a one-metre radius between workers must be practised inside the workplace. Furthermore, the DTI and DOLE Interim Guidelines provided that employers are required to supply the resources and materials needed to keep workers healthy and the workplace safe, including masks, soap, disinfectant and even Covid-19 testing kits. Guidelines for areas under quarantine: DOLE’s Department Order (DO) No. 214-20 lifted the interruption of the prescriptive periods for the commencement of actions, claims, petitions, complaints, processes and other proceedings before the Office of the Secretary, bureaus and regional offices in all areas under community quarantine. In areas under ECQ, modified ECQ (MECQ) or hard/total lockdown, the prescriptive period shall begin to run again when the ECQ, MECQ or hard/total lockdown is lifted.

The filing of complaints, claims and applications for registration, permits or renewal shall be filed through courier or postal services, and regional websites, e-mail and other digital platforms, as applicable. Further, the DO provided that in areas under community quarantine, applications for the registration of labour organisations and workers’ associations shall be filed through the Online Union Registration System. The release of certificates of registration, permits and licences may be done by appointment or through courier or postal services. The DO provides guidelines for petitions for election certification, requests for sole and exclusive bargaining agent certification, and inter/intra union cases: a. Filing: Petitions, pleadings and other similar documents shall be filed, as far as is practical, through the use of courier services, postal services, regional websites, e-mail and other digital platforms; b. Conferences and hearings: Conferences and other proceedings shall be conducted through the use of digital platforms, if available to all parties. In case of non-availability of digital platforms, conferences and other proceedings may be conducted through conventional means while observing the prescribed minimum health standards and protocols. In the event there is a party involving a large number of individuals or group, the individuals shall elect a representative, if practical, to minimise over-crowding in the conference or other proceedings. c. Conduct of certification election and DOLE-supervised local elections: Certification election and DOLE-supervised local elections shall be conducted through the use of digital platforms as may be agreed upon by the parties, or through conventional means while observing the prescribed minimum health standards. These health standards shall be incorporated into the election guidelines. d. Decisions, resolutions and orders: Decisions, resolutions and orders shall be rendered subject to prescribed minimum health standards and protocols, as the case or situation requires.

Securities Deposit

The SEC, through Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 11 of 2020, issued an extension of the deadline for the submission or filing of securities deposit during ECQ, or through June 15, 2020. The SEC thereafter issued MC No. 24-2020, which further extended the deadline for the posting of additional securities deposit and substitution of securities deposit: a. The posting of additional securities deposit for branch offices whose submission of AFS was extended pursuant to MC Nos. 17 and 18, Series of 2020, shall be extended until October 29, 2020; b. Securities deposits that matured during the period of extension pursuant to MC Nos. 17 and 18 of 2020 were likewise extended until October 29, 2020. The extension for the posting of additional securities deposit and the substitution of securities deposit shall automatically be applied without the need for a request from the affected branch offices.

Under the Revised Corporation Code, corporations doing business in the Philippines that were affected by the new requirements as stipulated by the amended code must comply in not more than two years from the effectivity of the Revised Corporation Code, or until February 23, 2021. For corporations incorporated prior to February 23, 2019, the adjustment in the computation of additional securities deposit based on the new figures under the law, and in compliance with the increase in initial deposit of P500,000 ($9940), will commence on August 1, 2021, unless the foreign corporation opts to comply with the minimum amount of P500,000 ($9940) prescribed by the Revised Corporation Code.

For foreign corporations licensed on February 23, 2019 or after, the minimum of P500,000 ($9940) shall be imposed, as required by the Revised Corporation Code. Any additional securities deposit for these corporations shall adopt the adjustment in the computation based on the figures provided by the Revised Corporation Code.

Moreover, SEC MC No. 24-2020 provided that the application for change of resident agent shall not incur penalty if the payment of appropriate fees is made on or before September 30, 2020. The issuance of the penalty shall commence on October 1, 2020. Ease of valuation of unlisted shares: Clarifying the definition of fair market value (FMV) of unlisted shares in the case of sale, barter or exchange, the Bureau of Internal Revenue released RR No. 20-2020, amending RR No. 06-2013. The latter established the rules for determining the FMV of shares of stock not listed and traded in the local stock exchange, as well as for setting the use of the net adjusted method. Under RR No. 20-2020, the rules for valuation of unlisted shares of stock shall not make use of the net adjusted method. For common shares of stock, the prima facie FMV is the book value based on the latest available AFS duly certified by an independent public accountant before the date of sale, but it may not have been conducted earlier than the immediately preceding taxable year.

For preferred shares of stock, the FMV shall be the liquidation value and equal to the redemption price of the preferred shares as of the balance sheet date nearest to the transaction date, including any premium and cumulative preferred dividends in arrears.

If both common and preferred shares are a subject of the transaction, the book value per common share will be computed by deducting the liquidation value of the preferred shares from the total equity and dividing the difference by the number of outstanding common shares as of the balance sheet on the date nearest to the transaction. Increase in excise taxes: In support of the health and well-being of Filipinos, on January 22, 2020 President Duterte signed into law RA No. 11467, which retroactively increased the excise tax rates on alcoholic drinks and e-cigarettes effective January 1, 2020. Rates shall also be increased on a staggered basis by 5% annually from the date of the law. The new law also prohibited the sale of heated tobacco and vaping products to persons aged 21 and below, imposing a fine of P10,000 ($198.89) and imprisonment of 30 days in the event of any violation thereof.

Debt Vehicles

To aid in averting a credit and liquidity crisis during the pandemic, the SEC issued MC No. 23 of 2020. These rules for corporate debt vehicles (CDVs) established guidelines for the creation of closed-end investment firms that will have the primary objective of investing in the portfolios of corporate debt of large corporations, medium-sized enterprises operating or deriving income in the Philippines, or those guaranteed by a large or medium-sized domestic corporation, the Philippine government or any of its agencies.

Generally, the minimum capitalisation of a new CDV is P50m ($995,000). However, if the CDV is part of a group of investment companies to be created or already in existence that will be managed by the same fund manager with a five-year track record, capitalisation shall not be lower than P1m ($19,900). Securities of the newly incorporated CDV may not be disposed of within 12 months from its registration, unless its incorporators are related to an existing fund or fund manager with a five-year track record.

As defined by the Securities Regulation Code (SRC), sales of securities by CDVs to qualified buyers not exceeding 19 persons in the Philippines during any 12-month period are exempt from the registration requirement under the SRC. However, a prospectus must still be submitted to the SEC for approval. Investments in corporate debt issued by a single enterprise must not exceed 25% of the fund’s net asset value and 50% in single group entities, unless the corporate debt is assessed by a ratings agency. It may also be waived if the CDV has a capital protection feature.

Notably, a CDV is prohibited from investing in securities that it is issuing and in corporate debts or corporations where its directors, officers, advisors, mangers or distributors are members.

Digital Banks

The BSP rolled out its draft guidelines for the licensing of digital banks, with a deadline of October 12, 2020 for the submission of comments. Benjamin Diokno, governor of the BSP, announced that month that the central bank hoped to issue the framework before the end of 2020, but this was not yet available as of late November.

Under the draft guidelines, the minimum capitalisation of digital banks shall be P1bn ($19.9m), with the BSP having the authority to impose a higher minimum capital requirement and capital ratio based on its assessment of the risk profile of the digital bank. Although the key feature of digital banks is the conducting of business using a digital platform and/ or electronic channels – which would consequently render physical branches superfluous – the proposed framework requires digital banks to maintain a principal or head office in the Philippines to serve as the main point of contact, and house the office of management and other support operations such as receiving and resolving customer complaints.

Ease of Doing Business

Through the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act (Ease of Doing Business Act), which was enacted on May 28, 2018, as well as amends to the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, the Philippine legislature sought to promote integrity, accountability, and the proper management of public affairs and public property, as well as to establish effective practices aimed at the efficient turnaround and delivery of government services, and the prevention of graft and corruption in the government. Through the implementation of revised timelines for the processing of standard governmental procedures, the Ease of Doing Business Act aims to reduce unnecessary delays and spur industrial activity, while at the same time remove red tape and prevent corruption in frontline government services.

In particular, under the Ease of Doing Business Act and its IRRs, the imposition of additional costs for the processing of government actions and permit requirements that were not reflected in the Citizen’s Charter, as well as the fixing and/or collusion with fixers in consideration of economic or other gain, shall hold the person who performs or causes the performance of such acts administratively and criminally liable under said law. A Citizen’s Charter is an official document that communicates, in simple terms, the service standards or pledge of an agency or service office regarding the frontline services being provided to citizens, and describes the step-by-step procedure for availing a particular service, the person responsible for each step, and the documents to be submitted and fees to be paid, if any.

Thus, all government agencies, including local government units (LGUs), are required to adopt a zero-contact policy to limit interactions of public officials and employees with an applicant or requesting party in the preliminary assessment and evaluation of submitted requirements of an application or request, unless such interaction is strictly necessary for the processing of the request or application. For the effective implementation of this policy, the electronic submission of applications, requests and payments are preferred, where available.

Further, the Ease of Doing Business Act enjoined government agencies to issue and implement their respective Citizen’s Charters for the guidance of the public when dealing with these offices. Administrative and criminal liability shall arise only upon failure, without due cause, to render government service within the prescribed processing time of three days for simple transactions, seven days for complex transactions, and 20 working days for highly technical transactions or for applications or requests involving activities that pose a danger to public health, safety, morals or policy.

Any person who performs or causes the performance of prohibited acts under the Ease of Doing Business Act shall be subject to criminal liability. This is specifically the case when the violation is committed through bribery or extortion, or when the violation was carried out deliberately and maliciously to solicit any favour in cash or in kind. In such cases, the pertinent provisions of the Revised Penal Code and other special laws shall apply.

The head of the office or agency shall be primarily responsible for the implementation of the Ease of Doing Business Act and its IRRs, and shall be held accountable to the public in rendering fast, efficient, convenient and reliable services. All transactions and processes are deemed to have been made with the permission or clearance from the highest authority having jurisdiction over the office or agency concerned. Violations of the law and its IRR shall subject heads of office or agency to administrative sanctions in accordance with the relevant administrative and civil service rules and regulations, where applicable. Failure by the heads of offices and agencies to comply with the law and its IRR shall render them liable to being charged in accordance with existing laws or rules before the appropriate forum.

Anti-Red Tape

In late August 2020 MC No. 2020-06 was issued by the Anti-Red Tape Authority under the Office of the President and addressed to all government agencies, including LGUs. It provided simplified, streamlined and automated standards, measures and procedures that were to be adopted by all covered agencies to ensure the provision of efficient and hazard-free government services under the new normal.

All government agencies are to be guided by the measures ascribed by MC No. 2020-06 to simplify and streamline procedures, including: a. Digital payments or licences, permits and other fees: All government agencies are required to establish a payment gateway to accept digital payments for the acceptance of all permits, licences and other fees; b. Electronic submission and acceptance: Government agencies are required to establish an online processing system for the acceptance of applications for permits, licences and clearances. This is aligned with the directive that electronic versions of such documents have the same level of authority as that of a signed hard copy; c. Conduct of interactions: In responding to follow-up queries or requests for update on the status of applications, government agencies may post the status of applications on their websites or designate an e-mail address that shall respond to such inquiries; d. Reduction of requirements for permits, licences and authorisations: Government agencies are required to retain only the necessary steps, procedures and requirements that will allow them to fulfil their legal mandate, as well as enforce the policy objectives of their enabling law; e. Reduction of signatories and use of electronic signatures: Government agencies are directed to utilise digital signatures in signing official documents. The number of signatories in any document shall be limited to a maximum of three signatures, which shall represent officers directly supervising the office or agency concerned and who are responsible for the issuance of the document; and f. Observance and compliance with the Ease of Doing Business Act: All government agencies are required to observe and comply with the prescribed processing times provided by the Ease of Doing Business Act. Any failure to deliver a government service, especially in the issuance of permits, licences, certification and authorisations, within the prescribed timelines constitutes violation of the Ease of Doing Business Act.

MC No. 2020-06 also laid out special rules regarding the validity of permits, licences, clearances, certifications or authorisations: a. Automatic approval or renewal of all pending actions that remain unacted upon by the responsible government agency beyond the prescribed processing time, provided that complete requirements were submitted and all appropriate fees were paid, will be granted; b. All government agencies are directed to consider extending the validity for licences, clearances, permits, certifications or authorisations to at least five years, unless otherwise specified by law or by particular time-bound reportorial requirements; and c. Expedited renewal procedures shall be adopted by all agencies in the renewal of permits and licences.

LGUs are also mandated to establish a one-stop shop in the form of a single common site or an online website or portal designated for the Business Permit and Licensing System to receive and process applications and receive payments, as well as issue licences, clearances, permits and authorisations. Telecommunications towers: In light of President Duterte’s directives against red tape and corruption, and instruction to fast-track the issuance of permits, licences and clearances for the construction of shared telecommunications infrastructure, several government agencies – including the Anti-Red Tape Authority, the Department of Information and Communications Technology, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government – collectively issued Joint Memorandum Circular No. 01 of 2020 (JMC No. 2020-01) to facilitate the quicker rollout of telecommunications infrastructure and service projects. Provided that all requirements enumerated by JMC No. 2020-01 are met, together with the payment of all relevant fees, an application or request for the issuance of a licence, clearance, permit, certification or authorisation shall be approved if the relevant agency fails to act upon the application or request within the period prescribed therein. Under Section 15 of the Ease of Doing Business Act, the processing and approval of permits for the installation and operation of telecommunication towers, facilities, equipment and services should be completed within seven working days for those issued by barangays (villages), LGUs and national government agencies. If the approval of the local legislative body is needed, a non-extendible period of 20 working days is prescribed.

Conclusion

In light of the legislative and regulatory changes made throughout 2020 and in the face of the difficulties posed by the pandemic, the Philippine authorities are working to ensure that the country will be able to withstand the challenges posed by the new normal. They are making the necessary adjustments to deal with the changing economic landscape. As the Philippines slowly but surely recovers from one of the most devastating pandemics to date, the government has shown initiative in ensuring that policies are in place that allow businesses and investors to thrive in a post-Covid-19 world. Through the implementation of economic stimulus packages, coupled with the efficient and judicious distribution of vaccines expected during 2021, there is optimism that the Philippines will regain its position as one of South-east Asia’s fastest-growing economies in the years to come.

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Legal Framework chapter from The Report: The Philippines 2021

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