Published 7 August 2020, The Daily Tribune
The Supreme Court recently issued the 2020 Interim Rules on Remote Notarization of Paper Documents (“Interim Rules”) allowing the notarization of documents through videoconferencing in areas under community quarantine. The said Interim Rules shall apply if one, or both the notary public and the person seeking notarial service (“principal”) are residing, holding office, or located in an area under community quarantine (whether enhanced, modified enhanced, general, or modified general community quarantine).
The application of the Interim Rules shall be limited to the notarization of paper documents and instruments with handwritten signatures or marks through the use of videoconferencing facilities and shall not apply to the execution of notarial wills.
Any notarial act performed via videoconferencing facilities pursuant to the Interim Rules shall have the same validity, force and effect and may be relied upon to the same extent as any other conventional notarial act.
Under the Interim Rules, instead of personal appearance, the principal may send the instrument or document requiring notarial act to the notary public by either personal or courier service. Note that the document or instrument must be integrally complete, bear the handwritten signature of the principal, and be placed in an envelope sealed with the initials of the principal. The principal is required to enclose therein two copies of any competent evidence of identity if he/she is not personally known to the notary public.
Apart from the document to be notarized, the principal shall also submit either a CD or USB containing a video clip of the him/her signing the document. Said video clip may also be sent by e-mail or any other means of digital communication.
Upon receipt of the document or instrument requiring acknowledgment, oath, affirmation, or jurat, the notary public shall schedule a videoconferencing session where he/she will perform the notarial act in accordance with the Interim Rules with the objective of confirming the location, identity and signature of the principal, comparing the principal’s signatures, verifying that he/she actually signed the instrument or document as represented, and requiring him/her to declare that he/she has executed the instrument or document as his/her free and voluntary act and deed (for documents or instruments requiring acknowledgment) or to confirm that he/she has read the instrument or document in its entirety and has understood all its contents and to avow to the whole truth of the contents thereof under penalty of law (for documents or instruments requiring oath, affirmation, or jurat). The notary public may also ask searching questions to assess the voluntariness of the principal in executing the document or instrument.
If the instruments or documents subject of acknowledgment, oath, affirmation, or jurat bear the signatures of parties who acted as witnesses to the execution thereof, the principal shall likewise submit at least two copies of any competent evidence of identity for each witness, if the witness is not personally known by the notary public. These witnesses shall likewise be present during the videoconference scheduled by the notary public for the conduct of the notarial act.
Meanwhile, if the principal in the notarial acts performed under the Interim Rules affixes a thumbmark or other mark instead of his/her signature, such mark shall be affixed in the physical presence of two unaffected and disinterested witnesses who shall also sign the document or instrument. In a videoconference to be scheduled by the notary public upon receipt of the document on instrument from the principal, the notary public shall, apart from the usual verification previously enumerated, confirm the location, identity and signature of the witnesses, ask searching questions to determine if they are in fact unaffected and disinterested to the parties to the document or instrument and confirm if each of them personally witnessed the principal affixing his/her thumbmark or other mark thereon freely and voluntarily.
The notary public is also obliged to take a photograph or a screenshot of the videoconference clearly showing all parties who participated in the notarial act, in a manner prescribed by the Interim Rules. Further, the notarial register shall, in addition to the entries required by the 2004 Notarial Rules, include an entry indicating that the notarial act was performed through videoconference as well as the particular videoconferencing facility used by the parties therein.
The pandemic has turned our lives upside down, sapped our resources and even threatened our sanity. But, we should not let it unreasonably hamper the delivery of essential legal services by constantly looking for novel ways to cope with the present situation. The Supreme Court did just that by issuing the Interim Rules on remote notarization.
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