THE GRACE period for rent payments will be applied to areas where more relaxed quarantine rules are in force, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said.

A 30-day deferral for residential and commercial rents was first applied during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed on Luzon, counting from the due dates falling within the lockdown period.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez in a message to reporters Monday said the rent deferral applies to areas under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) and general community quarantine (GCQ).

“The rent grace period applies during the ECQ, MECQ, and GCQ,” he said.

The DTI in a memorandum on April 4 said residential rents and commercial rents for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) falling due within the ECQ will have a grace period of 30 days. The cumulative rent due within the quarantine may be amortized over a six-month period after the lifting of the lockdown.

Lessors who do not observe the 30-day grace period face imprisonment of at least two months and/or a fine of at least P10,000.

Malls that have voluntarily waived rent during the ECQ have not announced if their waivers will be extended for stores that are not yet able to open under MECQ.

The Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) said mall operators have been taking various positions on rents.

“Some have given 50% off, some 75% off, and some (charged rent based on) percentage of sales. This is something that we will have to observe in the coming weeks and work with the different mall operators to see how both parties can cooperate and find a win-win formula to help each other in this precarious situation,” PRA Vice Chair Roberto S. Claudio said in an email Monday.

Metro Manila, Laguna, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Zambales, and Angeles City are on MECQ until the end of the month. Under MECQ, some businesses, including non-leisure stores in malls, may have partial operations. The cities of Cebu and Mandaue are still on ECQ.

Some Metro Manila malls have restarted partial operations since the start of the MECQ, including those operated by Megaworld Corp., Robinsons Malls, Ayala Malls, and Vista Malls.

Metro Retail Stores Group Inc. announced in a statement Monday that it will be reopening some Luzon and Visayas branches, within limited schedules and with social distancing and public health measures,

Mr. Lopez also disputed reports of overcrowding at malls after Metro Manila transitioned to MECQ over the weekend.

The trade department, including Mr. Lopez, visited two malls on Sunday — SM Megamall and Robinsons Galleria.

“Aside from supermarkets and drugstores, only (about) 20% of stores opened. Crowd is estimated also about less than 30% than pre-COVID days. Malls ensure social distancing and people wearing mask,” he said, responding to photos of crowds at malls circulating online.

Health department Spokesperson Maria Rosario S. Vergeire said Sunday that mall operators and local government should follow social distancing guidelines to ensure that there is no crowding, noting that a spike in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections could result in a return of strict lockdowns. — Jenina P. Ibañez