Review of consumer laws pushed

Louella Desiderio - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines should review and update its consumer laws to take into consideration the rise in digital transactions and increased access to product testing facilities, an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) study showed.

Results of the peer review on the Philippines’ consumer protection system – conducted by a team composed of the ASEAN Secretariat with support from the German Agency for International Cooperation, regional expert Sathita Wimonkunarak, and country experts Anthony Abad and David Rosario – were presented during a virtual conference yesterday.

The Philippines, through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), is the first country in ASEAN that volunteered to undergo the peer review on consumer protection, which is being conducted to benchmark progress on policies in each ASEAN country to pave the way for a common consumer framework for the region.

Abad said among the recommendations of the peer review is to amend the Consumer Act of the Philippines and the Product Safety and Standards Law to update these to present realities.

With the pandemic leading to the rise in use of online platforms, he said the study also saw the need for consumer laws and regulations to cover digital transactions.

“So when we formulate these amendments, these new laws and new regulations, we have to do it again while studying the reality of digital transactions,” Abad said.

He said the laws and regulations should cover the responsibility of digital platforms, product inspection and warranty, as well as jurisdiction over cross-border transactions involving foreign sellers.

In amending or crafting consumer protection laws, Abad said the Philippines must also take into account how these align with the ASEAN.

Apart from amending consumer protection laws, the peer review also recommended that the Philippines allow more access to product testing centers outside the major cities.

At present, Abad said there are very few testing centers in the country, with the most reliable facilities located in Metro Manila.

The peer review likewise recommended increased manpower, training and funding for the DTI, which can be used to enhance consumer education, complaint resolution and monitoring of consumer-related issues.

In monitoring and enforcement, Abad said DTI’s adjudicatory role in consumer disputes must be enhanced to allow for the award of damages subject to review by the courts.

The study also encourages the use of DTI’s online dispute resolution system.

“Being the first country in ASEAN to have volunteered to undergo this peer review, the Philippines and the Filipino consumer stand to benefit from the enforcement of high-level principles on consumer protection,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

He said the DTI recognizes the need to adapt to the changing landscape of businesses and trade transactions aggravated by the impact of the pandemic, as well as the advances in digital technology.

Among the common problems faced by the government in protecting consumer rights online are false or inaccurate information provided by businesses, problems with payment security, and unfair contract terms.

“To address these problems, DTI undertakes measures that include attending public hearings and technical working group meetings conducted by Congress, the Senate and other government agencies, as well as committee/council meetings, and initiating legislative proposals such as the Internet Transactions Act and the Revised Consumer Act,” Lopez said.

He said the DTI has a mechanism for speedy resolution of consumer complaints, as well as education and information dissemination campaigns to increase consumer awareness.

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