A peer evaluation has revealed that the Philippines needs to review and amend its existing consumer laws based on the trends in the Asean region and focus on regulating digital transactions.
The Philippines is the first country to undergo the Asean Peer Review on Consumer Protection, which seeks to examine and enhance the current consumer protection systems.
Atty. Anthony Abad, one of the country experts for the Philippine peer review, said the Consumer Act of the Philippines, the Product Safety and Standards and the related laws should be revisited and revised to improve consumer protection in the country.
“It needs to be brought up to date,” he said.
In doing so, Abad said, the country should study the consumer protection laws and regulations of its Asean neighbors and consider them when amending to further the cooperation in the region.
“You have to harmonize any effort towards a holistic approach—the whole Asean dealing with consumer protection,” he added.
The country expert also pointed out the need to create regulations for digital transactions amid the surge in e-commerce sales due to mobility restrictions amid the pandemic.
He said these should include the responsibility of the digital platforms, product inspection, product warranty and jurisdiction over cross-border transactions involving foreign sellers.
“The way we regulate in order to regulate consumer protection must consider that large portion of transactions are in digital form. The responsibility of digital platforms, and the means by which we ensure the public of the integrity and safety of the products that are being sold have to be done with the means to apply these laws, even reaching out to digital transactions,” he explained.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) recently released a draft of a joint administrative order (JAO) aimed at enhancing consumer confidence in e-commerce transactions. The draft seeks to instruct the online merchants and e-commerce platforms to adhere with relevant laws, including the rules and regulation on the sale, distribution, production, importation, marketing, sale and transport of products.
It was also recommended to have more product testing centers outside the major cities, in addition to clarifying the rules regarding mandatory product testing.
“We have very few testing centers, and the most reliable testing centers are only here in Metro Manila, which means you are limited to coming to Metro Manila in order to test products, even if it is random testing,” Abad shared.
In terms of monitoring and enforcement, the country expert said DTI should enhance its “adjudicatory role in consumer disputes to allow for the awarding of damages, subject to review by the courts.”
This, as the DTI was urged to promote the use of its online dispute resolution system and to allocate resources for its operation.
The country must also review and amend existing rules on class action suits to allow consumer protection groups to have better representation of individual consumers, he said.
Abad also suggested developing a regulatory framework to harmonize the roles of the different agencies involved in the probe and prosecution of ICT (information and communication technology) crimes.
The recommendations were based on the six stakeholder dialogues held last year, said Atty. David Rosario, another country expert for the Philippine peer review.
The discussions tackled consumer organizations, consumer protection in the digital era, business-to-consumer concerns and supply, safety and standards, among others.
“Consumer education and manpower training are necessary to ensure consumers are aware of their rights, and those tasked with protecting consumers are aware of how to protect them,” he said, referring to the insights generated from the dialogues.
Sahtita Wimonkunarak, regional expert from Thailand for the Philippines peer review, shared that the local policymakers should also consider the potential risks to consumers in the digital age.
These risks include consumer fraud; misleading and unfair commercial practices; unsafe products; difficulty in the cross-border enforcement and getting the redress; and violation of privacy and personal data protection, among others, she enumerated.
For her part, DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said that the peer review gives the department “a clear direction of where the consumer protection in the Philippines will have to go.”
“We also understand that there is a need to reframe the planned Consumer Act of the Philippines. It should be more consumer-centric and rights-based instead of being government centric,” she stressed. “We recognize that the current Consumer Act is more on the regulation side instead of more on the empowerment of the consumers.”