Reported cases of online fraud have been growing . There has been a spate of Internet scam and fake online bookings, including heartbreaking cases of a purchased laptop which turned out to be a stone after the package was opened, and a purchased cell phone turning out into wooden blocks. We have also read about delivery riders victimized by fake bookings and illegal drugs being sold online.
I submitted the position paper of Laban Konsyumer Inc. on these concerns upon the invitation of the Committee on Trade and Industry of Congress in connection with its investigation in aid of legislation.
These reported cases are acts of fraud, deceit, scam, concealment, deceptive sales practice, misrepresentation and sale of illegal drugs committed by the perpetrators through the use of information and communication technology such as the internet and mobile phones, electronic messages and electronic documents. These acts are punishable as violations of the Revised Penal Code, Consumer Act of the Philippines, Food and Drug Act and the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
Thus , all persons involved in the online transaction done through the use of internet , computers , gadget or mobile phones , who acted either as principals, accomplices and/or accessories are indispensable parties and responsible to the consumers and victims. Their violations are penalized under the terms of the above -captioned laws. To be more specific , “persons “ include the owners and administrators of online sites and applications which were used as the exclusive medium in the commercial transactions, manufacturers, importers, distributors, suppliers and sellers of goods and services.
Where can government help?
Government will be helping the consumers who have been victimized by the practices in online commerce if it provides a fast and reliable redress mechanism where consumers can file his complaint and receive resolution through the medium of electronic messages or electronic documents.
With the exponential growth of online commerce in our country (reportedly the fastest growing in the region) and as consumers become more aware of their rights in addressing their grievances, there has been a considerable increase in the number of consumer complaints. Thus, there is a need to provide a redress mechanism that is readily available to the consumers at any time and at any place. The key words here are “ readily available,” meaning that the redress mechanism must be accessible, easy-to-use and real-time online.
In line with this suggestion, I note the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Administrative Order setting up the general guidelines for the development of the Philippine Online Dispute Resolution System ( PODRS ) .
There is an urgent need to fast-track the development and implementation of the PODRS, which will serve as the web-based consumer complaint portal of the country. This is where the consumer can file complaints and seek redress in relation to product purchased or service availed either offline or online from a business establishment or platform located in the Philippines.
The knowledge that a facility like the PODRS is available will increase consumer confidence because consumers will know they can now communicate their grievances regarding violations or possible dangers to their welfare, particularly when the facility comes with the assurance that these concerns will be directly handled by the DTI and other relevant government agencies.
It is very important, however, that the DTI places a very strict timeframe towards the development and roll out of the PODRS. The PODRS cannot be allowed to remain merely a concept. The pandemic’s lockdowns and extended quarantines as well as the new protocols resulting there from are the conditions prevailing in our country now and are spurring the growth of online commerce and the accompanying incidents of online fraud . I am confident that the sooner the PODRS is in place, the sooner consumer confidence will be enhanced.
I suggest that the PODRS should include an integrated national online system where all consumer complaints are received, docketed, transmitted, and resolved. This will provide a network facility for the tracking, ageing, and status updating of cases and prescribing standards and limits of disclosure of data to maintain integrity and credibility of the system. To ensure that there are checks and balances when executing and implementing such a system, we consumers , and the consumer groups among us, are ready to act as watchdogs as the system is being rolled out, to ensure that the rollout is achieved effectively, efficiently, successfully and on time.
In conclusion, the PODRS and the Online or Internet Transactions bills currently pending in the House and the Senate, can, when enacted, cover the gaps and voids in existing online transactions and strengthen the level of protection consumers should be enjoying when using electronic messages or electronic documents in the purchase of goods and services. This is the level of protection given to consumers using the traditional modes of commerce such as face to face transactions and transactions based on written contracts. The online consumer is entitled to no less than the same protection.
Atty. Vic Dimagiba is President of Laban Konsyumer Inc.
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