The House of Representatives led by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has passed a bill providing financial relief to persons living in an area declared under a state of calamity.
Principally authored by Rep. Eric Olivarez of Parañaque City, House Bill 9082 or the “Financial Relief in Times of Calamities Act,” was passed on second reading before Congress adjourned on Feb. 9.
The bill prescribes a grace period of 60 days from the cessation of the disaster in areas declared under the state of calamity, for individuals to pay the utility bills which have fallen due during the time the area has been declared under state of calamity.
It grants individuals a six-month moratorium on the principal payments, accrual and collection of interests, obligations of any kind from public or private financial institutions in areas declared under state of calamity.
Under the bill, a grace period refers to the period during which payment is allowed to be received for a certain period of time after actual due date. During this period, no late fees are charged and the late payment shall not result in default or cancellation of the loan.
Any violation of the Act shall subject the erring utility service provider, distribution utility, financial institution or private lender to a fine equivalent to five times the interests, penalties and surcharges collected in violation of the provisions of the Act, for the first offense; 10 times the amount in interests, penalties and surcharges collected for the second offense; and suspension of the license to operate for the third and subsequent offense.
Upon conviction by the appropriate court, the fines under the Act shall automatically apply to the principal loan balance of the borrower.
The bill mandates the Department of Energy, Energy Regulatory Commission, National Telecommunications Commission, National Risk Reduction Management Council and Department of the Interior and Local Government, in coordination with the leagues of local government units, to issue the implementing rules and regulations of the Act.
Olivarez, vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, welcomed the bill”s passage and even expressed optimism that it will soon get enacted.
He said that during a state of calamity, every Filipino family becomes vulnerable to countless problems brought about by a strong typhoon and other natural disasters. Each person needs to start from scratch to get back a little of what they used to have, he said.
Olivarez said it is understandable for those affected people to prioritize obligations and responsibilities one by one.
“The need to eat and find shelter after a typhoon or an earthquake which wiped out everything a person or a family has is of course always the main concern. Then the other responsibilities follow after that,” said Olivarez.
He added that it is the obligation of the State to help everyone affected by such calamities and lessen their burden as much as possible.