Published 23 December 2019, The Daily Tribune

The world’s richest man Jeff Bezos earned the much-coveted title because of profits made through electronic commerce. He started with selling books online, then moved on to basically peddling any and all conceivable products through the Internet. Jack Ma became the wealthiest man in China through Alibaba by duplicating the marketing concept of Jeff Bezos but targeted customers only within China which, with its over a billion population, is a veritable giant market.

Electronic commerce simply means transactions through the Internet, mobile phone and similar instruments. When our electronic commerce law was passed in June 2000 under Republic Act 8792, its objectives were to facilitate domestic and international transactions, contracts and exchanges and storage of information through the utilization of electronic, optical and similar medium, mode, instrumentality and technology to recognize the authenticity and reliability of electronic documents related to such activities and to promote the universal use of electronic transaction in the government and general public (Section 3, RA 8792). The law started as an aspiration to promote the use of electronic transaction in the government and general public. The aspiration has turned into reality. For instance, applications for visa and issuance of licenses or permits in certain cases are now done online. Pleadings are served electronically as part of arbitration procedures. Soon, a similar mode of service of summons and pleadings will be adopted for court litigation.

The law applies to any kind of (electronic) data message and electronic document used in the context of commercial and non-commercial activities to include domestic and international transactions, contracts and exchanges and storage of information (Section 4, RA 8792).

Electronic data message refers to information generated, sent, received or stored by electronic, optical or similar means (Section 5(c), RA 8792), while electronic document refers to information by which a right is established or an obligation extinguished, or by which a fact may be proved and affirmed, which is received, recorded, transmitted, stored, processed, retrieved or produced electronically (Section 5(f), RA 8792). Under the Rules on Electronic Evidence though, the term “electronic document” may be used interchangeably with electronic data message” (Rule 2, Sec 1 (h), Rules on Electronic Evidence).

Electronic documents shall have the legal effect, validity or enforceability as any other document or legal writing (Section 7, RA 8792). Electronic document therefore creates right and imposes obligation just like a written instrument. It is not invalid or unenforceable just because it is an electronic document.

The law, however, does not vary the requirements of any existing laws on the formalities required in the execution of documents for their validity. But, for evidentiary purposes, an electronic document shall be the functional equivalent of a written document under existing laws (Section 7, RA 8792).

In any legal proceedings, the admissibility of an electronic data message or electronic document in evidence cannot be denied:

a. On the sole ground that it is in electronic form; or,

b. On the ground that it is not in the standard written form and electronic data message or electronic document.

In one case, however, the Supreme Court ruled that a facsimile transmission cannot be considered as electronic evidence. It is not the functional equivalent of an original under the Best Evidence Rule and is not admissible as electronic evidence. (MCC Industrial Sales Corp. vs Ssangyong Corp., GR 170633, 17 October 2007).

The rule is different in elections, where the picture image of the paper ballot scanned is considered an electronic document. Hence, even if the type of automated election system that our country used is “paper-based,” the picture images of the paper ballots, as scanned and recorded by the precinct count optical scan machines, are considered “official ballots” that faithfully capture in electronic form the votes cast by the voter, as defined by Section 2 (3) of RA 9369. As such, the printouts thereof are the functional equivalent of the paper ballots filled out by the voters and, thus, may be used for purposes of revision of votes in an electoral protest (Chato vs House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, GR 199149, 22 January 2013).

However, despite the equal probative weight accorded to the paper ballots and the printouts of their picture images, before the latter may be utilized, it must be first shown that the official ballots are lost or their integrity has been compromised if the other party does not agree that the printouts should be used (Maliksi vs Comelec, GR 203302, 11 April 2013).

While the law considers an electronic data message or an electronic document as the functional equivalent of a written document, it does not regard the Internet as a valid medium for publishing laws, rules and regulations (Garcillano vs House of Representatives, GR 170338, 23 December 2008).

The use of electronic document has become so pervasive. I hope that you my dear readers have used it to your advantage and have not become victims as a result of unwarranted reliance on it.

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