LENDING companies are again asked to assist borrowers by offering debt relief measures to cope with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a notice on its website, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it “strongly encourages” financing companies, lending companies and microfinance non-government organizations to roll out initiatives that will help ease the financial burden of borrowers.

Among the measures it suggested are lowering interest rates, waiving or reducing penalties, offering a payment holiday, allowing debt consolidation, extending the term of loans and providing flexible payment schedules.

It said other programs that the lenders may come up with to help give financial relief to borrowers are also welcome.

These measures are aside from the mandatory grace period that the SEC imposed on lenders through Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.

To recall, the SEC earlier required lenders to apply a 30-day grace period for all loans with principal and/or interest due during the enhanced community quarantine period, or from March 17 to May 31.

On top of requiring a grace period, the SEC also prohibited lenders from imposing interest on interest, fees and other charges to future payments or amortizations. Interest accrued during the grace period were also allowed to be paid on a staggered basis over the remaining life of the loan.

These requirements have been lifted for loans that are due starting June 1, or when the government eased the lockdown measures to a general community quarantine.

The SEC recognized that while the quarantine is gradually being lifted, the COVID-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on the finances of Filipinos, hence its plea to lenders to continue giving debt relief.

The Labor department earlier reported some 2.6 million Filipinos lost their jobs during the pandemic. Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III projected some 10 million Filipinos might lose their jobs this year.

Earlier, several lending and financing companies announced extended loan payment deadlines due to the quarantine. Some of these are BDO Unibank, Inc.; Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co.; Bank of the Philippine Islands; Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.; Union Bank of the Philippines; East West Banking Corp.; China Banking Corp.; CIMB Bank Philippines; and Philippine Savings Bank. — Denise A. Valdez