The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is lending more support to national efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
In its most recent initiative, the Commission transferred a total of P2 billion from its accounts to the Bureau of the Treasury to augment the government’s war chest in tackling Covid-19.
The SEC contributed under Section 4(v) of Republic Act No. 11469, otherwise known as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and the directive of the Department of Finance.
The Commission has been proactively responding to the public health emergency that later escalated into a national emergency, in line with the President’s directives and the provisions of the Bayanihan to Heal as One-Act.
Among others, the SEC has extended regulatory relief to corporations and other entities under its supervision by moving statutory deadlines and easing requirements and procedures.
The Commission has likewise sustained the delivery of services to its stakeholders, including enforcement efforts against unscrupulous members of the corporate sector.
“A pandemic that has brought the world to a standstill, disrupted businesses and livelihoods and caused the loss of lives calls for a collective response from all sectors,” SEC chairperson Emilio Aquino said.
“The SEC has moved into position for the country’s fight against COVID-19. Aside from supporting other government agencies on the frontlines, we have worked on buttressing the corporate sector, capital market and investing public, which are crucial in the resilience of our economy and, more importantly, of the Filipino people.”
Online frontline services
To minimize the disruption brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic in the corporate sector, the SEC immediately adopted alternative work arrangements in its offices across the country.
The SEC also activated a helpdesk manned by designated employees from every department or office and scaled up its information, education, and communication program with the help of traditional and new media to attend to the concerns of its stakeholders.
Moreover, a dedicated webpage was created for announcements and issuances to help the transacting public navigate through changes prompted by the pandemic in the Commission’s operations.
Accordingly, the SEC has managed to continue accepting and processing applications for company registration online through its Company Registration System (CRS), as well as for amendments, company monitoring and verification of registration status, among others.
The Commission has processed at least 2,500 applications for company registration and monitored 2,894 corporations since shifting to a work-from-home arrangement, a move in line with Section 4(t) of the Bayanihan to Heal as One-Act.
The SEC also continued to process pending applications for the renewal of the accreditation of external auditors and auditing firms. On April 6, it started accepting applications for the centralized accreditation of external auditors and auditing firms for entities under its supervision and those regulated by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and Insurance Commission.
Extended deadlines, electronic filing
To ease the burden of its covered institutions during the quarantine, the Commission extended the deadline of submission for certain reportorial requirements and provided for alternative modes of filing them.
For one, affected corporations with purely domestic operations now have until June 30 to file their annual report and/or audited financial statements for 2019. Those with foreign operations may submit the requirement until 30 June 2020 or 60 days from the lifting of travel restrictions, whichever comes later.
The SEC also extended the deadline for the submission of the Mandatory Disclosure Form (MDF) to 30 April 2020 or 15 days from the lifting of the enhanced community quarantine. The deadline was previously set for 31 March 2020.
Corporations may submit other reports such as the General Information Sheet (GIS) through email. Such reports may be accomplished without notarization and using electronic signatures in the meantime.
Meanwhile, reports filed by publicly listed companies through the Philippine Stock Exchange’s Electronic Disclosure Generation Technology will count as submissions to the SEC.
Heightened investor, consumer protection
In parallel, the Commission remained to be proactive in championing investor protection, watchful of individuals and groups that may take advantage of the situation to prey on investors and consumers.
The SEC has flagged at least 14 groups engaged in unauthorized investment-taking activities and other fraudulent activities since the declaration of a public health emergency upon confirmation of local transmission of COVID-19 in early March.
The Commission’s enforcement efforts received an additional boost from the provision of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act against cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts.
Under Section 6 of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, those participating in such online activities face the punishment of imprisonment for two months or a maximum fine of P1 million or both.
In the capital market, the SEC put in place mechanisms to ensure the continued operation of trading platforms and to promote transparency and full disclosure. Among others, it required publicly listed companies to apprise the public of the pandemic’s impact on their operations and the risk-mitigation actions they have undertaken.
The SEC also adopted measures to promote good corporate governance in the interest of investors. It issued guidelines allowing for the attendance and participation of directors/trustees and stockholders/members in regular and special meetings through remote communication.
In parallel, the Commission has championed borrowers by calling on financing and lending companies to adopt debt relief measures. Upon the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations of Sec 4(aa) of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, it directed financing and lending companies, and microfinance NGOs to implement a 30-day grace period for all loans with principal and/or interest due within the enhanced community quarantine.
“The SEC has answered the call and will continue to support the fight against Covid- 19,” Mr. Aquino said. “From its position – as overseer of the corporate sector, independent guardian of the capital market and champion of investor protection – the SEC recognizes and stands prepared to play its role in cushioning the impact of the pandemic and steering the economy toward recovery.”