Social distancing: Non-compliant shopping malls face legal liability

Published May 18, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Malls that cannot strictly impose social distancing and related health protocols can be legally liable and run the risk of getting closed again, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

This developed as consumers flocked to the malls as soon as the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was modified effective last Saturday, May 18, wantonly throwing precautions into the air.

According to Roque, mall operators have obligations under the “Bayanihan to Heal As One Act” and therefore have potential legal liability under the law. If they cannot fulfill their obligations, he said, there is a criminal liability. He stressed that malls must have their own security personnel and people to enforce social distancing otherwise, they will just be closed.

“Malls will be closed again if rules are not complied with,” he stressed.

Meantime, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, who visited two malls in Ortigas on Sunday, reported of no crowding. “So far, they comply with the guidelines,” he said.

Aside from supermarkets drugstores, only about 20 percent of stores were opened. Crowd was estimated also about less than 30 percent than pre-COVID. “Malls ensure social distancing and people wearing mask,” he added.

“I checked myself and we talked to the sales people inside the stores on a Sunday afternoon which is normally the height of the crowd.”

He was also informed that the photos that showed overcrowding of shoppers was taken during the opening only as people were coming in, but which were eventually dispersed as they got inside. “Social distancing was observed,” he stressed.

Lopez further said there were also photos of crowd that were actually taken weeks ago when the malls were closed, but were used to distribute SAP programs.

Malls have their health and crowd control marshals while the Philippine National Police can also do period checks, he said.

On testing of employees before they can go back to work, Lopez clarified to the public and businesses that the DTI-Department of Labor and Employment guidelines on testing are aligned with the Department of Health guidelines.

“Government does not require testing of all employees before they get back to work. We screen all in terms of temperature scanning and checking if worker is symptomatic, or has exposure to COVID patients. The PCR testing will be administered only to this group of symptomatics and COVID 19 suspects. The rest of workers can be permitted to resume work. But companies have the option to conduct testing to all workers,” he said.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, that if establishments, especially the micro and small, are required to shoulder the cost of testing their employees before going back to work may have to remain closed because they cannot afford the cost of the tests.

Roque also said that local government units have the discretion to require businesses to have testing of employees before going back to work taking into consideration the capability of the establishments.