The Philippines now has a law that strengthens consumer protection against cybercrimes. Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Reuters

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has signed a bill that boosts consumer protection against cyber-crime, as the Philippines accelerates the shift to a cash-lite economy.

Republic Act (RA) No. 11765 or the Financial Products and Services Consumer Protection Act (FCPA) strengthens the rights of Filipino consumers to equitable and fair treatment, disclosure and transparency of financial products and services, protection of consumer assets against fraud and misuse, data privacy and protection, and the timely handling and redress of complaints.

“These mechanisms reinforce their confidence in the financial market and foster the stability of the Philippine financial system,” according to the law.

The law authorizes the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Securities and Exchange Commission and Insurance Commission (IC) to enforce the law’s provisions on all financial service providers under their jurisdiction.

Financial regulators can craft their own standards and rules for specific financial products or services within their jurisdiction, guided by internationally accepted standards and practices.

Financial regulators can now conduct surveillance and examination of financial service providers, as well as require the submission of reports.

Under the law, financial regulators can restrict the collection of excessive or unreasonable fees by service providers. They can also disqualify directors, officers and employees, as well as suspend a company’s oper-ation, if they violate the law.

They can also fine and suspend companies that violate the law.

Regulators can also issue cease-and-desist orders against financial service providers that commit fraud, violate the law or “cause grave or irreparable injury or prejudice to financial consumers.”

Financial regulators are now given adjudicatory powers to order the reimbursement of lost funds not exceeding P10 million, allowing regulators to “resolve the challenges faced by financial consumers in a timely manner.”

They are tasked to determine the reasonableness of interest charges or fees that a financial service provider may demand, collect, or receive for a service.

Regulators must also provide efficient and effective mechanisms to address and handle complaints, requests and inquiries from financial consumers.

“The law arms regulators with sufficient authority in effectively preventing fraud and addressing consumer issues, especially as more turn to digital services,” Senator Mary Grace Natividad S. Poe-Llamanzares, who chairs the Senate Committee on Banks and one of the measure’s proponents, said in a statement.

She said the law allows regulators to suspend the operations of erring financial service providers and require reimbursement of lost money.

“We authored this measure and saw its passage through as its sponsor to ensure a heightened level of protection for all consumers,” she said. “Transactions, big or small, deserve quality and prompt attention.”

A copy of the law was published a day after Mr. Duterte’s office released an executive order mandating all government agencies to use digital methods in disbursing and collecting payments.

In 2020 and 2021, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) received more than 42,000 complaints through its Consumer Assistance Mechanism. The total amount involved in the 2021 complaints amounted to P540 million, bring-ing total from 2019 to P2 billion.

The BSP cited identity theft, phishing and social engineering schemes including card-not-present fraud as the top three cybercrimes in 2020. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza