The Covid-19 pandemic has not yet been declared as within the scope and definition of force majeure under the Civil Code since during the last Spanish Influenza in 1918-1919 the Philippines was still under American colonial rule, and the Americans refused to admit that the pandemic had reached Philippine shores. Apparently it did, but it was considered the ordinary flu or trangkaso, therefore it was not officially recorded in our history books as a pandemic.
Is Covid-29 considered Force Majeure or Fortuitous Event?
When the New Civil Code was passed in 1953 the framers of the Civil Code had no historical data on the Spanish Flu as a pandemic, but only as an ordinary seasonal flu. Thus, it was not taken into account in the definition of force majeure by the framers when they deliberated on the subject. The pertinent provision in the Civil Code is Art. 1174 which provides that:
“Except in cases expressly specified by law, or when it is otherwise declared by stipulation, or when the nature of the obligation requires the assumption of risk, no person shall be responsible for those events which could not be foreseen, or which, though foreseen, were inevitable.”
No one can say for sure if the Covid-19 pandemic was foreseeable by anyone, although Bill Gates warned of a coming pandemic in 2015, four years before it happened. The SARS outbreak in 2003 though not a pandemic was a coronavirus and genetically related to Covid-19. And so was the MERS-CoV in 2012. So it is really hard to say with certainty that Covid-19 could not have been foreseen. If Covid-19 was foreseeable could it have been avoided in the Philippines? Again, a highly debatable question because this will depend on existing government healthcare policies and a strong public healthcare system.
Until the Congress enacts a law to revise the definition of force majeure or fortuitous event in the Civil Code to specifically include Covid-19 pandemic as a ground for the avoidance of liability, all obligations arising from contracts entered into prior to or before the pandemic started are deemed suspended, not terminated or canceled, until business operations resume, and the parties may renegotiate the terms of payment. No party can totally avoid liability by citing force majeure or fortuitous event under Art. 1174 of the Civil Code, or the legal and physical impossibility to comply with any obligation because of the relatively unknown and still prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.
Past due residential rent, however, can be spread over a period of 6 months but there is no mention of the suspension of commercial rent or debt relief in the law except only for the 30-day grace period. Termination of the lease, supply, or another service contract due to financial loses arising from the lockdown without applying the forfeiture clause is not however a clear option at the moment.