ONLINE business registrations and complaints surged after the government locked down Luzon starting in mid-March to contain a coronavirus pandemic, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told senators at a hearing on Thursday 73,276 online businesses registered from March 16 to Aug. 31, compared with only 1,756 that registered from Jan. 1 to March 15.

This brought the total this year to 75,029 registered online businesses. Complaints related to online transactions also ballooned to 12,630 as of August from 2,457 last year, he added.

“The quadruple increase is attributed to the surge of online transactions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr. Lopez said. He said 8,000 online complaints were posted between April and May alone.

The Senate trade committee is tackling a proposed Internet Transactions Act that seeks to regulate online businesses. The measure is a priority of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s government.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) supported the measure, and asked to be included as an implementing agency.

Faye Condez-de Sagon, a legislative and policy officer at the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC), said incentives that will be given to online companies should be extended to brick-and-mortar stores.

Lazada Philippines Chief Executive Officer Ray Alimurung said the measure could become a landmark legislation for e-commerce, but appealed to the committee to delete a clause that makes both online platforms and sellers liable.

“It will potentially result in lessening customer trust because violators will hide behind platforms because it is easier for the regulator or enforcer to go after only the platform,” he told senators.

“It will severely risk the platform’s commercial viability to the detriment of micro, small and medium enterprises. Everyone will be impacted by the few bad apples,” Mr. Alimurung said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan