Under a new law, the interior designer will provide the client a one-year guarantee from the time of the formal turnover to the client. Decorators, architects, furniture makers, suppliers, etc. can’t call themselves “interior design consultants.” Intellectual theft is punishable by law. And, foreign interior designers must get temporary permits and collaborate with a local counterpart.
The Philippines is the first country to formulate laws governing the interior design profession.
Fifteen years since the first law was passed, last December President Aquino signed the expanded Philippine Interior Design Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10350), which enforces stricter rules.
Marcelo Alonzo, director for Professional Practice (including legislation) of the Philippine Institute for Interior Design (PIID), cites the major revisions.
Titles: Just like the title “Dr.” or “MD” is used by board-certified doctors, the titles “Interior Design,” “Interior Designer,” “Interior Design Stylist,” and “Interior Design Consultant” on calling cards, advertisement and publicity can be used only by licensed professional interior designers.
Civil liability: On the first year of project completion, the designer will assume full responsibility for any damage or destruction, except those brought about by forces of nature. If there are defects in the project born out of his/her plans, the designer will perform the repair, at his or her expense, within 45 days from the time the client lodged the complaint.
If the designer fails to comply and the client undertakes the repairs, the client is entitled to a full reimbursement or the client can sue the designer.
Proprietary rights and the use of the seal: The licensed designer must sign and seal (as approved and provided by the Professional Regulatory Board of Interior Design) all plans, specifications and contract documents. The interior designer is entitled to proprietary rights over their concepts and designs with their signature, stamp and seal.
Hiring foreign designers: Foreign interior designers or consultants must get a special permit from the Professional Regulation Commission through the Professional Regulatory Board of Interior Design. The foreign designer must concur with a licensed Filipino counterpart who has been actively practicing for at least 10 years.
The foreign and local interior designers working on the project shall divide the professional fees fairly. They both have to equally share documentation expenses and taxes.
In marketing and reportage, the local and foreign designers should both get acknowledged.
Penal clause: The punishment can be a fine of P300,000 to P1 million, or imprisonment between six months and three years.
Alonzo explains that the law was born out of the need to safeguard the local profession. One concern is the advent of the General Trade and Tariff Agreements (GATT) which breaks down barriers between countries and encourages liberal exchange. “Foreign interior designers can practice in the Philippines and we can practice abroad, but we still have to protect our talents,” he says.
He cites the need to educate Filipinos on the difference between a mere decorator and a professional interior designer. The latter is trained to address safety issues.
“Previously, people could get away with it. They put ‘Architecture, Interior Design and Landscape’ in their cards. Now, they can’t do that anymore,” says Alonzo. “If you have a natural talent for composing things, you are just a decorator. An interior designer goes beyond decoration. Professional interior designers address safety, materials, space planning, anthropometrics (the comparative study of the human body measurements and properties) and ergonomics (making the environment comfortable using anthrompometric data).
“Interior designers follow the standard building code; they get clearances. If their client is a hotel, they would have to get sturdy, fire-resistant materials, not just pick something beautiful. Color is very important. Nobody has died of being in a room with awful color, but you can get irritated. It has a psychological impact. For instance, you don’t paint blue in a restaurant because it’s an appetite suppressant. Color theory is included in the ‘board examination.’”
The new law also provides protection of intellectual property. “If somebody imitates your work, you just can’t say, ‘He copied my idea!’ The documents have to be signed and sealed by the interior designer. These are the proofs that you are the originator. Then you can sue the plagiarist.”
Similarly, a mixed-use development project can claim that it hired a foreign company to design. In fact, a local architectural firm did most of the work, but didn’t get any credit for it.
The Philippine Interior Design Act of 2012 is an expansion of the Interior Design Practice Law (Republic Act 8534) of 1998, which states that an interior designer needs a license to practice. The old law included a grandfather’s clause wherein architects and designers who have been practicing for a long time could be given a license without the need of an exam.
“This was abused. We are stepping up the professionalism,” says Alonzo.
Clients can now file complaints with the PIID about errant licensed designers.
“If he did not finish what was stated on the contract due to problems, we can run after the designer. That is the advantage of professional licensure. Clients can seek help. If the client was duped by a decorator who claimed to be a licensed designer, just give us the business card,” he says.
The bogus title and the card can be enough grounds to file a case and even send the person to jail.
Alonzo says the interior design industry is growing. There are nearly 20 schools, accredited by the Commission on Higher Education. Still, out of the 2,000 licensed members of the PIID, only 200 are practicing. “That’s why some projects are taken in by architects and illegal practitioners,” he says.
To raise public awareness, the PIID will launch the Philippine Interior Design Act of 2012 on Feb. 22 at Ilustrado Restaurant in Intramuros, Manila.