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House approves bill creating e-commerce bureau

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on second reading a bill creating an Electronic Commerce Bureau (E-Commerce Bureau) which will regulate internet commercial activities and protect consumers who engage in online transactions.

Under the measure, the E-Commerce Bureau will be the virtual central authority which will receive and address consumer complaints on internet transactions.

Likewise, the bill mandates body to develop an online dispute resolution platform which will be the single  point of entry for consumers and online merchants seeking out-of-court resolution of the cases.

In addition, the bill tasks the bureau to establish, manage and maintain a Registry of Online Business which will provide consumers  access to data and information of registered online business entities for purposes of verifying the validity, existence of and other relevant information pertaining to business entities.

A code of conduct for all businesses engaged in e-commerce which stipulates the obligations of e-commerce platform operators and specifies the responsibilities of on-line merchants of goods is also provided by the bill, since merchants are expected to act responsibly to build trust in internet transactions and to protect and uphold the interest of consumers at all times.

As to the specific limited liability of online platforms, the bill provides that online platforms will be solidarily liable with an online merchant to the consumer only to the extent of civil damages suffered by the consumer as a direct result of the transaction.

It also states that online platforms will be liable for civil and administrative indemnity with online merchants only under the following instances: (1) failure to exercise ordinary diligence;  (2) failure to  remove goods  or services not compliant with law; permission to an online merchant not authorized to do business in the Philippines.

Online platforms will not be held liable under the following instances: reliance on the authenticity of an online merchant's representations, warranties or registration documents even if such information are later proved to be false, provided that the online operator is able to show evidence of good faith; and reliance on the representations, warranties or submissions of an online merchant stating that it is valid under the laws of the Philippines or conform to applicable laws, rules and regulations.

“This is to promote and maintain a robust electronic commerce environment in the country and build trust between online merchants and consumers through secure and reliable e-commerce platforms where goods and services are transacted online with appropriate transparency and utmost efficiency to encourage the creation of new products, services, business models and processes,” the committee report on the measure read.

“This will establish an effective regulation of commercial activities through the internet or electronic means to ensure that consumer rights and data privacy are protected, innovation is encouraged, fair advertising practices and competition are promoted, online transactions are secured, intellectual property rights are respected, and where product standards and safety are observed,” the committee report added.—LDF, GMA Integrated News