SyCipLaw Bulletin # 5: Labor, Immigration, and Ports Authority Released Issuances Relating to the COVID-19 Pandemic

A. National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Temporarily Suspends Work

The NLRC issued NLRC COVID-19 Advisory No. 5 dated March 17, 2020 [1]which provides that during the effectivity of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over Luzon from (March 17, 2020 to 12 midnight of April 13, 2020) —

1. Work at the Commission proper and at all units and Offices of the Labor Arbiters is suspended. Work from home arrangements shall be implemented for the Commissioners, Labor Arbiters, and their assisting lawyers. 

2. The filing of Motions for Reconsideration, Petitions for Extraordinary Remedies, and appeals is suspended starting March 16, 2020 until the NLRC resumes regular operations. 

3. For walk-in settlements, parties are advised to submit their notarized Compromise Agreement and/or Quitclaim, Release and Waiver when the Offices of the Labor Arbiters resume regular operations. 

4. With respect to conferences/hearings scheduled during the ECQ, the Advisory states that: 

a. All Single Entry Approach (SEnA) conferences conciliation and mediation conferences shall be terminated. The referral for compulsory arbitration or to other offices that have jurisdiction over the issues raised in the Request for Assistance will be issued by the SEnA Conciliator-Mediator when the NLRC resumes office.

b. All mandatory conciliation and mediation conferences are terminated. The parties are mandated to file their respective position papers within 15 calendar days from the resumption of regular operations. As an alternative, both parties may file a joint motion for the Labor Arbiter to conduct mandatory conciliation and mediation conference. 

c. All other hearings are reset one month from the date of the scheduled conference.  

B. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Temporarily Suspends Visa Issuance and Visa-Free Privileges in its Foreign Service Posts.  All foreign nationals may also leave the country any time during the ECQ. 

The DFA issued Foreign Service Circular No. 29-2020 dated March 19, 2020[2] which —

1. Directs all Foreign Service Posts to temporarily suspend visa issuance and visa-free privileges effective March 19, 2020, except for visas of foreign spouses and foreign children of Filipino nationals; and 

2. Provides for “deemed cancellation” of all previously issued entry visas to the Philippines by the Foreign Service Posts except for those issued to: 

a. Foreign spouses and foreign children of Filipino nationals; and

b. Foreign Government and International Organization officials.  

The DFA has clarified that the Circular has no impact on valid visas issued by the Bureau of Immigration and its other offices to foreign nationals who are already in the Philippines. (Please see https://www.dfa.gov.ph/covid-19-advisories/26387-public-advisory-on-the-temporary-suspension-of-visa-issuance-and-visa-free-privilege).

Pursuant to the implementation of the ECQ, all foreign nationals may now fly out of the country at any time, subject to availability of flights.  For this purpose, sweeper flights for foreign nationals to bring them to international airports will be allowed to continue operations. Only one person is allowed to bring a traveler to the airport and he/she must depart immediately after dropping off the traveler. The driver should also carry with him/her a copy of the airline ticket of the traveler as proof of conveyance. (Please all see https://www.dfa.gov.ph/covid-19-advisories/26375-travel-advisory-outbound-travel-restrictions-by-philippine-government-on-foreign-travelers.)

C. Bureau of Immigration (BI) Temporarily Suspends Transactions in Luzon

In its Advisory to the Public dated March 19, 2020,[3] the BI provides that during the effectivity of the ECQ, the following transactions at the BI offices in Luzon, including the National Capital Region, are hereby temporarily suspended except for outbound passengers intending to depart the Philippines from any of the international airports in Luzon:

“1. Filing of applications for extension of/conversion to non­immigrant/immigrant visa including hearing/interview;

“2. Filing of applications regarding Filipino citizenship including [Republic Act No. 9225 (Philippine Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Law of 2003)] including hearing/interview;

“3. Filing for downgrading of visa status;

“4. Filing for extension of tourist visa;

“5. Filing of applications for Special Work Permits/Provisional Work Permits;

“6. Filing for the renewal of ACR I-Cards; and

“7. Implementation of Board of Commissioners approved visa applications for extension of/ conversion to non-immigrant/immigrant visas.” 

Foreign nationals whose visas will expire during the duration of the ECQ shall be allowed to file their applications for extension within thirty (30) days from the lifting of the ECQ.

D. Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) Suspends Cargo Entry Withdrawal Permit Requirement

PPA Memorandum Circular No. 10-2020 (Guidelines in the Implementation of Community Quarantine in Luzon in All Ports Under the Jurisdiction of the Philippine Ports dated March 17, 2020 [4] suspends the requirement of a Cargo Entry Withdrawal Permit (CEWP) under PPA Memorandum Circular No 09-2020. Trucks carrying cargoes to and from ports in Luzon are no longer required to secure CEWPs from the PPA or Port Terminal Operators.

The Circular clarifies that ports in Luzon under the PPA’s jurisdiction shall continue to be open to cargo ships, provided that there will strictly be no embarkation/disembarkation of crew, and subject to the requirements of the Bureau of Quarantine/Department of Health. All passenger ships will not be allowed entry in ports.

Trucks carrying cargoes coming from any port in Luzon will be subject to the following protocols:

1. Trucks carrying cargoes from one port to another port in Luzon which will not require traversing a body or bodies of water shall be allowed continuous access to and from said ports. Carrying of empty containers for withdrawal or repositioning shall also be ensured continuous entry to and from the ports and inland container yards/depots.

2. Trucks carrying cargoes which will require traversing a body or bodies of water, or from one island to another, shall be required to unload the cargoes in the next port of call and transfer the same to another truck or vehicle; or, in the alternative, engage a different driver and a maximum of two helpers provided by the trucking company/shipper/consignees for the continued voyage of the trucks and cargoes to their final destination.

3. In all cases, truck drivers and helpers shall be subjected to strict health screening at the port/s before they will be allowed to enter or leave the port and proceed to their subsequent or final destination.

Any of the existing transport documents such as Bills of Lading, Waybills, Delivery Orders/Receipts, Container Interchange Report, including electronic systems (i.e., TABS, G2G, B2B, B2G, mobile messaging/receipts) shall serve as port entry/exit documents for inspection and verification by land, maritime and health security authorities.

For more information about the regulations discussed above, please contact your account partner or the author of this client alert:

Russel L. Rodriguez
Partner
rlrodriguez@syciplaw.com



[1] https://www.facebook.com/nlrc.gov/photos/pcb.2982786858408256/2982786721741603/?type=3&theater; last visited at 12:32 pm on March 25, 2020.

[2] As of this writing, DFA has yet to make a copy of Foreign Service Circular No. 29-2020 available online but please see the DFA’s press release at
https://www.dfa.gov.ph/covid-19-advisories/26387-public-advisory-on-the-temporary-suspension-of-visa-issuance-and-visa-free-privilegelast visited at 12:38 pm on March 25, 2020.

[3] http://immigration.gov.ph/images/Advisory/2020/03_Mar/2020Mar19_advisory.pdf; last visited at 1:33 AM on March 20, 2020.

[4] Guidelines in the Implementation of Community Quarantine in Luzon in All Ports Under the Jurisdiction of the Philippine Ports. Philippine Ports Authority; https://www.ppa.com.ph/sites/default/files/issuances_docs/PPA%20MC%2010-2020.pdflast visited at 6:00 PM on March 24, 2020.


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