THE PHILIPPINES needs to reform its consumer protection laws in order to offer better protections during the pandemic, according to an ASEAN panel studying individual countries’ regulations.

David Kintanar Rosario, a country expert on the ASEAN peer review team, said in a virtual briefing Monday that the pandemic fast-tracked the shift to a digital economy, where protections need to be upgraded.

“Entering 2020, no one could have foreseen that the world would be in a standstill… there have to be rules and regulations to specifically protect consumers in these online markets,” Mr. Rosario said.

“The rise in online transactions has also led to an increase in unregistered sellers. Unregistered sellers are not only problematic… because (they call) into question the legitimacy of buying and selling online,” he added.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Philippines is the first country in ASEAN that volunteered to undergo a peer review on consumer protection.

The peer review team had representatives from Malaysia, Vietnam and the ASEAN Secretariat, with support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, and regional and country experts.

Mr. Rosario said redundancy in regulatory authority needs to be cleared up.

“You cannot have different government agencies investigating the same item. It may need to be streamlined to promote better efficiency,” Mr. Rosario said.

Anthony A. Abad, a country expert of the peer review team, called for a review of Republic Act No. 7394 or the Consumer Act and other laws in order to upgrade consumer protection.  

Mr. Abad added that rules governing product inspection and warranties are needed.

“A large portion of transactions are in digital form. Digital transactions should not be outside the purview of existing law. It must not be outside of the reach of regulators,” Mr. Abad said.   

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said the DTI is addressing the changing environment.

“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. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave