Leading Ladies: UNAWA Co-Founders Make It to Asia Business Law Journal’s Top 100 List for the Fourth Straight Year

UNAWA co-founders Atty. Monalisa C. Dimalanta, Atty. Regina Jacinto-Barrientos, and Atty. Maria Raquel S. Chavez of Puyat Jacinto & Santos (PJS) Law are once again among the Philippines’ Top 100 Lawyers based on research conducted by the Asia Business Law Journal

Apart from being Senior Partner in PJS Law and President & CEO of UNAWA, Atty. Dimalanta also recently completed two years as the Chair of the Philippine National Renewable Energy Board (NREB). She continues to lead the innovation efforts of the Firm and in training junior lawyers in Mergers & Acquisitions and Energy Law. She was also cited last year as an awardee of the Women in Renewables Asia (WIRA) and as the only Philippine lawyer among the Asia-Pacific IFLR1000 Women Leaders for 2021.  

Atty. Barrientos, meanwhile, is CEO of PJS Law. As a founding partner and its Managing Partner for more than 10 years, she has led the 25-year-old firm from a three-partner startup to one of the leading law firms in the country. Atty. Barrientos champions UNAWA’s business development and strategic partnerships and continues to be heavily involved in legal practice, advising clients on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions in various industries. Atty. Jacinto-Barrientos has also been recognized as Woman Lawyer of the Year in 2017 and Managing Partner of the Year in 2016 by the Asian Legal Business – Philippine Law Awards.  

Specializing in banking, finance & capital markets, energy, and corporate & commercial law, Atty. Chavez is able to draw on her wealth of experience from her years as corporate counsel for Banco de Oro Universal Bank and as legislative aide to the Philippine Secretary of Finance. She has also served as legal consultant to the Philippine Electricity Market Corporation in relation to the commercial operations of the Philippine Wholesale Electricity Spot Market. In UNAWA, Atty. Chavez leads financial oversight and governance.

The A-List — as the top 100 lawyers list is called — is an annual publication based on the extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. It reflects inputs from thousands of in-house counsel, as well as partners at international law firms, in response to questions on which lawyers should make the cut and why.

Aside from their extensive legal knowledge, the Asia Business Law Journal said these A-List lawyers are known to have “a forward-thinking approach to solving complex problems.”

UNAWA testifies to this pioneering mindset that fueled its founders to put up a regulatory technology startup in the Philippines. As the world gets more and more complex, UNAWA is ready to take on the challenge with our Attys. Dimalanta, Barrientos, and Chavez at the helm.


Why Should Documents Be Notarized

Why Should Documents Be Notarized?

A lot of life-changing eventssuch as buying a home, setting up a business, or bequeathing assets to another family memberrely on the authenticity of legal documents. 

Why Should Documents Be Notarized

In this regard, there are certain documents that are required by law to be notarized. Notarization has legal implications since it converts a private document into a public instrument. Under Philippine rules on evidence, once a document is notarized, this becomes proof of the document’s authenticity. Moreover, the Philippine public tends to rely on notarization as a source of legitimacy for their transactions even in cases where it is not required.

A notary public is a public official who witnesses the signing of these important documents and verifies the identity of the signatories, their willingness to sign the documents, and their knowledge of what is declared in these documents. 

Extended lockdowns, health risks, and continuously evolving travel policies have made it challenging to physically go to a notary public to have documents notarized. Fortunately, remote notarization is now possible with UNAWA RNotary.

RNotary is now available in Makati City for single signatory documents and will soon be rolled out in more cities across the Philippines. Rates start at Php500 and will vary depending on the type of document to be notarized. 

Visit the UNAWA RNotary website to create an account. Once logged in, simply follow the instructions to get your first document remote-notarized.

Notaries who want to be part of the service can email us to know more.

Follow UNAWA on Facebook for updates.


Award-winning regtech startup UNAWA signs 5-year partnership deal with Taytay, Palawan LGU to revitalize local tourism

Pioneering regulatory tech (regtech) startup UNAWA and the local government of Taytay, Palawan have signed a Memorandum of Agreement which aims to revitalize local tourism through Pasaporte, an innovation powered by UNAWA’s Digital Transaction Hub, a suite of solutions that accelerate the digitization and signing/completion of important business documents. This digital suite includes UNAWA SafeForm, which allows the municipality to securely collect and digitize tourism data.

MOA Signing screenshot

The 26-page Pasaporte will be issued to visitors upon payment of the mandatory conservation and sustainable tourism fee (CSTF). It comes with a QR code, which will be scanned at each destination, as well as practical tourist information. To be launched by the last quarter of 2021, the regular Pasaporte is valid for one year while its VIP version is valid for five years.

“Data-driven policy formulation is essential to our thrust of sustainable and climate-resilient tourism development,” said Joie Matillano, Municipal Tourism Officer of Taytay, Palawan. “Pasaporte allows us to monitor tourism statistics in real-time, standardize CSTF collection and ensure its transparency, and minimize health risks.”

CSTF revenues will support the day-to-day operations of the municipal tourism office, environmental conservation efforts, capacity building initiatives for tourism stakeholders, and infrastructure development projects.  

 

Winner of Asian Development Bank challenge

UNAWA’s Digital Transaction Hub was one of the two winners of the Digital Against COVID-19 Hackathon organized by the Asian Development Bank last November 2020.

“Out of 149 participants who entered 47 solutions from 31 countries around the world, UNAWA made it to the Top 5—and eventually ended up as a winner—showcasing the impact of its Digital Transaction Hub in helping both local government units and MSMEs reopen and transact digitally, securely, and legitimately amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Attorney Monalisa Dimalanta, Chief Executive Officer of UNAWA.

“We’re staying true to our mission of accelerating ease of doing business and creating meaningful impact for our hard-hit sectors,” she added.

 

Taytay, Palawan: A bridge to new discoveries

Approximately 200 kilometers north of Puerto Princesa City and an hour away from El Nido, Taytay (which originated from the word taytayan, or “bridge” in the Tagbanua language) is known for its pristine beaches, superb diving sites, stunning wildlife, and thrilling outdoor activities. It was one of the 12 finalists in the 2013 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards organized by World Travel & Tourism Council. The revitalization of its tourism industry is expected to boost the local economy, providing opportunities to local residents who would otherwise seek employment elsewhere.

Palawan’s Sagguniang Panlalawigan has already stated its intentions to implement the Pasaporte project across all municipalities in the province.


Remote notarization is now available with UNAWA RNotary

Lockdown restrictions and health risks have made it challenging to physically execute critical documents related to deeds, contracts, and loans, to name a few. Fortunately, the Supreme Court of the Philippines’ 2020 Interim Rules on Remote Notarization of Paper Documents states that individuals need not physically go to a notary public’s office to have documents notarized.

Pioneering Philippine regulatory technology (regtech) startup UNAWA makes remote notarization even more convenient by offering UNAWA RNotary.

Initially available in Makati City, UNAWA is working towards making UNAWA RNotary available across the Philippines. Rates start at Php500 and will vary depending on the type of document to be notarized. 

Visit the UNAWA RNotary website to create an account. Once logged in, simply follow the instructions to get your first document remote-notarized.

Are you a notary public that wants to be part of our RNotary pool? Contact us!


Remote Notarization in the Philippines: What You Need to Know

Extended lockdowns, health concerns and continuously evolving travel policies have made it challenging to physically execute critical documents related to deeds, contracts, and loans, to name a few. Fortunately, the situation has inspired innovative policies such as the Supreme Court of the Philippines’ 2020 Interim Rules on Remote Notarization of Paper Documents, which states that individuals need not physically go to a notary public’s office to have documents notarized. While institutions overseas fully remote notarizations, a mix of online and offline procedures are still required in the Philippine setting.

Pioneering Philippine regulatory technology (regtech) startup UNAWA makes remote notarization even more convenient by offering UNAWA RNotary. We’re answering your most frequently asked questions about this service.

Q: Why should documents be notarized?

A: There are certain documents that are required by law to be notarized. In addition, notarization has legal implications since it converts a private document into a public instrument. Under Philippine rules on evidence, once a document is notarized, this becomes proof of the document’s authenticity. Moreover, the Philippine public tends to rely on notarization as a source of legitimacy for their transactions even in cases where it is not required.

Q: Can I have all documents notarized?

A: As mentioned, not all documents need to be notarized. But if it does need notarization, the same will be acceptable by RNotary. However, UNAWA’s RNotary Launch will be for single signatory documents only.

The next update will allow for more document types.

Q: Does this mean then that all notarized documents are valid?

A: Not necessarily. A notarized document can still be nullified or invalidated in case there are errors in notarization, for example:

  • Incomplete notarial certificate
  • Incorrect venue/signer’s name
  • Illegible/expired notary seal
  • The seal is stamped over text
  • The use of correction fluid

A nullified document will have no force or effect. This means you will need to hire a lawyer and even go to court to prove the document’s legitimacy. This can be costly and time-consuming.

Q: What are the benefits of remote notarization?

A: With UNAWA’s RNotary service, you can have important documents notarized securely from the comfort and safety of your own home. 

With UNAWA, notaries registered with the service have an existing notarial commission, ensuring that all notarized documents are valid and recorded.

Q: How does remote notarization work?

A: RNotary’s remote notarization service entails three steps:

Step 1: Signed document is securely delivered to the notary by personal or courier service

The following requirements must be prepared by the Principal or the person sending the document: 

  • Document to be notarized, in as many copies as may be needed (important: aside from the number of notarized copies that you need, please prepare at least two (2) additional copies, which will be kept by the notary)
  • Two (2) copies of the principal’s valid I.D.
  • Secure envelope for transmittal to the notary
  • Video clip showing that the principal actually signed the document to be notarized. While the Supreme Court states that the video can be saved on a USB drive or sent as an email attachment, these options have corresponding risks: USBs could malfunction and confidential information sent via email might be hacked. Files uploaded on RNotary’s system are encrypted in transit for added protection. You may use a laptop or phone camera to record the signing, then save as .mp4 for a lightweight video version.

If you’re a company representative and are signing on behalf of a business entity or a corporation, please add the following requirements:

  • Two (2) certified copies of the document granting the principal authority to sign in such capacity (e.g., Corporate Secretary’s Certificate, signed Board Resolution, or Special Power of Attorney)
  • Two (2) copies of the valid ID of the person who signed the authorization document

Once these requirements have been completed, RNotary will facilitate the pickup and delivery of the documents to be notarized.

Step 2: Notary verifies the principal's identity and the document's legitimacy

  • The principal has to open a GPS navigation app (i.e., Waze or Google Maps) on his or her mobile device and show this on screen to verify his or her location 
  • Notary opens the sealed envelope and asks the principal to confirm the identity of the document; the latter is required to show original copies of that document being notarized
  • The document must be kept in the principal’s full view at all times during the video call
  • The principal will be asked to affix a handwritten signature on a blank piece of paper for comparison, confirm that the signature on the document is his/hers, and that he/she signed voluntarily. 
  • Representatives will be asked to confirm that they were authorized to sign on the principal’s behalf.
  • Notary examines the principal’s demeanor and surroundings. Other persons present during the videoconference might be requested to leave if needed

Step 3: Notary signs and affixes seal on the document

  • Notary completes the notarial certificate, affixes signature, and sets his/her seal
  • The certificate shall state that the notarial act was done through video conferencing facilities in accordance with the Supreme Court rules
  • During the videoconference, the principal avows to the whole truth of the contents of the document under penalty of law

Q: Where can I avail myself of the RNotary service and how much does it cost?

A: While RNotary will be initially launched in Makati City, we are working towards making the service available in every city across the Philippines. Rates start at Php500 and will vary depending on the type of document to be notarized. 

Visit the UNAWA RNotary website to create an account. Once logged in, simply follow the instructions to get your first document remote-notarized.

For notaries who want to be part of the service, please email us and we will get in touch for the next steps.

Can I use app-based transport network vehicles services (TNVS) to send documents?

A: Yes, you can. Our TNVS partners and in-house couriers will be trained to handle important legal documents required for remote notarization.


UNAWA’s RNotary service is now available. Access a more secure way to get documents notarized

Follow UNAWA on Facebook for updates.


UNAWA strengthens RegTech leadership and management team with 2 new hires

Pioneering Philippine regtech startup UNAWA has added two distinguished talents to its leadership team, beefing up its roster as it prepares to launch its digital products.

UNAWA welcomes Atty. Gino Jacinto as its new Vice President for Operations and Business Development and Ms. Sally Dimalanta as its new Senior Account Manager. The two bring with them several years of experience in legal services and leadership development, further strengthening UNAWA’s position as a leader in Philippine regtech innovation.

Prior to UNAWA, Atty. Gino Jacinto acts as the Chief Legal Officer of VELOCITY Sports & Entertainment, a Singapore-based boutique agency connecting companies to the sports and entertainment industries, as well as the Chief Business Development Officer of Legalex, a Philippine startup connecting its users with lawyers through an on-demand digital platform. He started his professional career at the MVGS and Q&A Law Offices before moving to the corporate world as the Head of Legal for an importation and distribution company.

“The Philippine legal industry is ripe for technological innovation, with various analog processes and old traditions giving way to digital transformation. I’m excited to work with UNAWA in exploring this massive opportunity to revolutionize the regtech space,” said Jacinto.

Meanwhile, Ms. Sally Dimalanta was an independent consultant before joining UNAWA, specializing in leadership and people development. She had also worked as the Senior Director of Operations of Alorica and the Senior Operations Manager of TELUS International Philippines, two multinational outsourcing companies providing world-class services to some of the largest corporations in the world.

“Today, businesses value efficiency more than ever, and optimizing processes is key in both growing successful businesses and bouncing back from the challenging global environment. With UNAWA, we’re creating sustainable solutions that will not only make legal processes more efficient for Filipino businesses, but also open these businesses up to massive opportunities in the digitally-enabled future,” said Dimalanta.

Commenting on the two new hires, UNAWA CEO Monalisa Dimalanta highlighted, “UNAWA remains steadfast in its vision to make regulatory compliance as pain-free as possible for enterprises and SMEs so they can focus on bouncing back and becoming real engines of economic recovery. With Gino and Sally joining UNAWA, we’re confident in turning that vision into a reality. We’re excited to announce groundbreaking new products in the coming months.”

Jacinto and Dimalanta’s hirings precede a significant step in UNAWA’s journey—the launch of its digital solutions in the latter half of 2021. From a digital platform providing accessible remote notarization to a web app digitizing legal documents and creating legally binding e-signatures, UNAWA is making ease of doing business a reality for Filipino businesses.


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.


Filipino regtech startup UNAWA wins 1st Runner-Up in regional pitch competition

 

Filipino regulatory technology (regtech) startup UNAWA placed first runner-up in the Business Plan Challenge of the 2020 Licensing Executives Society Asia Pacific (LES APAC) Conference, a regional competition that featured various startups addressing challenges in intellectual property. It was the sole Philippine startup in the competition, which featured four teams from across the Asia-Pacific region.

 

“We are honored with this recognition by LES APAC’s Business Plan Challenge,” said Atty. Mona Dimalanta, CEO of UNAWA. “As a proudly Filipino startup, we believe that this win is also representative of the remarkable progress that the Philippine regtech industry has undergone over the past few years.” 

 

The Business Plan Challenge is a regular feature of the LES APAC Conference, an annual gathering of the region’s experts in the intellectual property and licensing industries. Hosted by LES Singapore on October 22–23, this year marked the first time that the conference was held entirely online, following the theme of “Licensing in the Age of Innovation.”

The overall winner of this year’s Business Plan Challenge was asEars, a Japanese startup developing innovative technology targeted at individuals with single-sided deafness. asEars’ product, which resembles a pair of glasses, allows individuals to better communicate with their peers in both casual and professional settings.

 

Award-winning solution

 

UNAWA’s pitch focused on its Digital Transaction Hub, an end-to-end solution that enables Philippine businesses to digitize their analog forms, protect their assets, and transact with other businesses securely and efficiently. Through its suite of solutions, UNAWA is helping entrepreneurs create more value, continue closing deals and earning, and capitalize on opportunities presented by the new normal.

 

“We have built our team and our business to help other businesses understand and navigate the terrain, and make business clearer, more convenient, more cost-efficient, and easier for them to survive and thrive,” said Niña Terol, Chief Marketing Officer of UNAWA, in the team’s pitch. 

 

Included in the UNAWA Digital Transaction Hub are the following products:

  • SafeForm – A tool that helps businesses digitize their analog forms and processes
  • SignSecure – A digital solution providing e-signature and mobile-verified encryption, making sure that a digital document is authentic and legally binding in the Philippines
  • SignSecure RNotary – A service that gives businesses easier access to remote notarization, as the Supreme Court has recently allowed remote notarization for certain documents  

 

“Our solutions were made with Philippine businesses in mind, which face various challenges relating to notarization that were only exacerbated by the country’s community quarantines,” explained Terol. “Through the Digital Transaction Hub, we aim to make a difference for our fellow Filipino entrepreneurs, and we will continue this thrust as we scale up to other countries in the near future.”

 

About UNAWA

 

UNAWA is a regulatory technology startup making ease of doing business a reality in the Philippines and helping them survive and thrive in the increasingly digital economy. Established in 2020, it is a partnership between multi-awarded legal firm PJS Law and inclusiontech startup Talino Venture Labs. 

 

For more information, visit https://unawa.asia


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.


UNAWA takes center stage as sole regtech firm in She Loves Tech Philippines 2020

UNAWA takes center stage as sole regtech firm in She Loves Tech Philippines 2020

It represented the regtech industry and its growing potential in the country

 

 

Regtech startup UNAWA was one of the 10 finalists in She Loves Tech Philippines 2020, the local unit of the world’s largest startup competition focused on women and technology. UNAWA joined nine other Philippine startups that were also led by female founders and executives. 

 

“The UNAWA team is honored to have been selected as a finalist for She Loves Tech 2020, and we are proud to represent and pioneer the country’s emerging regtech sector,” said Atty. Mona Dimalanta, CEO of UNAWA. “As a regtech startup primarily led by female Filipino professionals, UNAWA understands and is mindful of its responsibility to deliver innovative solutions to the Philippine market that make ease of doing business something that can truly be at our fingertips.”

 

 

The pitch competition was held online on October 8, 2020 in partnership with QBO Innovation Hub, the country’s first public-private partnership focused on the startup community. Established in 2015, She Loves Tech aims to put the spotlight on women-led and women-focused startups around the world, highlighting the importance of female innovators populating the startup and technology industries.  

 

“We do all of this because we believe that the combination of women and technology is key to solving the world’s greatest challenges,” said Rhea See, Co-Founder of She Loves Tech. “Not having women on the table, not having women in this industry, is depriving us from some of the most innovative technologies that can help us move the needle.”

 

Fintech startup SukiPlus won the competition, and it will represent the Philippines in the She Loves Tech global finals. Completing the podium are healthtech firm reach52 and e-commerce platform GrocerGenie.

 

Digital Transaction Hub

Watch Full Event Here!

 

In UNAWA’s first-ever pitch, the startup presented its Digital Transaction Hub, a suite of regtech solutions that helps businesses participate and succeed in the digital economy. Created in response to the challenges that businesses continue to face in the pandemic, UNAWA equips micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with the tools they need to quickly overcome these challenges and create more value for their businesses. 

 

“In a world that has rapidly gone digital, transforming digital transactions creates great value for small businesses and entire economies alike,” said Niña Terol, Chief Marketing Officer of UNAWA, in the She Loves Tech 2020 pitch. “It generates up to 80% cost savings per company, gets business done 21 times faster than paper documents, and empowers MSMEs to be part of the US$300-billion digital economy.”

 

The UNAWA Digital Transaction Hub includes SafeForm, which enables businesses to digitize their analog forms and create automated workflows; SignSecure, an e-signature service helping entrepreneurs close digital contracts and agreements more quickly; and SignSecure RNotary, which gives clients access to secure and efficient remote notarization services. 

 

“Through the UNAWA Digital Transaction Hub, we champion She Loves Tech’s mission of creating impactful innovations through female-led startups,” added Atty. Dimalanta. “As we continue to roll out our solutions, UNAWA is keen on empowering more of its fellow businesses to not only survive, but also thrive in the digital economy.”


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.


Wet, Electronic, and Digital: The Three Types of Signatures

Wet, Electronic, and Digital:
The Three Types of Signatures

Which ones are legally binding?

 

 

A signature is one of the most common and definitive ways of authentication. As it is unique to every individual, a signature allows transacting parties to verify each other’s identities and acknowledge each other’s consent. This is why signed documents are required for almost every kind of transaction.

 

With the advent of technology, signatures have evolved to be an essential part of digital transactions, with parties now able to sign these documents electronically. With the COVID-19 pandemic making it harder to transact in person and shifting the world towards a “new normal,” many businesses are looking at digital and contactless alternatives for their documentary needs, with their signatures following suit.

 

In this article, we will talk about the three main types of signatures, their pros and cons, and which signatures are considered legally binding in the Philippines.

Related: If you want to experience how e-signatures and electronic documents can make your business transactions easier, learn more about SignSecure.

 

Wet Signatures

The inked signatures we are most familiar with are called “wet signatures”. They come from an individual, by physical movement of the hand, using a writing implement with ink scrolling on a piece of paper. 

 

As wet signatures have been around far longer than their “dry” counterparts, they are considered the standard for any documents that need verification. Most Philippine laws that require signed documents contemplate the use of wet signatures, and it was not until recent years that laws and regulations made any distinction made between “wet” and other types of signatures.

 

While wet signatures do not have legal restrictions or limitations, they are increasingly becoming much harder to implement in the new normal. Strict quarantine and physical distancing requirements have made it difficult to set in-person meetings, and sending documents through couriers pose additional risks to all parties.

 

Electronic Signatures

Enter electronic signatures, or “e-signatures” as they are often called. As the name implies, e-signatures are any type of marks that an individual uses to signify their identity in an electronic document. While the most common example of this is an individual signing on a digital platform, e-signatures can also take the form of digitally scanned wet signatures or even an audio recording of the individual authenticating the transaction.

 

E-signatures were already growing in popularity even before COVID-19 hit, as businesses  began incorporating digital processes, but they are becoming indispensable tools in today’s business landscape. Instead of arranging physical meetings that may pose a health risk to the individuals involved, or mailing a document at the risk of loss, damage, or violations of confidentiality, many businesses are now creating electronic documents that can be verified through e-signatures. By using electronic documents, businesses are able to transact safely, quickly, and efficiently.

 

One common concern raised against the use of e-signatures is whether these are all recognized by law. However, e-signatures have already been accepted by Philippine law as legally binding, as long as they satisfy the requirements laid out in the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000, which revolve around presenting evidence that the party that provided the e-signature actually consented to the transaction. 

Related: Do you need to sign legal documents and ensure the validity of your e-signature? Click here.

 

Digital Signatures

Digital signatures are usually considered the strongest and most secure out of the different kinds of electronic signatures. These signatures use cryptographic technology to not only verify the identity of both parties, but also to authenticate the contents of the electronic document itself.

 

Digital signatures often rely on a set of private and public “keys,” which can be likened to digital fingerprints that represent the identities of the individual signing as well as the document used in the transaction. By encrypting a document with the sender’s public key, it ensures that only the recipient with their corresponding private key can decrypt the message and verify the authenticity of the document’s contents. Any outside tampering made to the document can be easily identified, thanks to this private key-public key dynamic, ensuring the security of the transaction.

 

 

As they are a subset of e-signatures, digital signatures are also recognized by Philippine law as legally binding, and they must also comply with the requirements of the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000. In addition, electronic documents signed by either e-signatures and digital signatures can also be admitted as evidence in any situation, by following the Supreme Court’s Rules on Electronic Evidence. This gives them the same legal effect and authenticity as physical documents.

 

Signing in the New Normal

With both electronic and digital signatures bearing the same weight as wet signatures, businesses can continue to transact digitally while worrying about fewer legal restrictions on their electronic documents. As the new normal brings new challenges, businesses can quickly adapt by digitizing their signatures and making their documents and transactions more efficient.

 

UNAWA can help you get started on setting up your electronic documents today. Find out more by clicking here.


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.


Is Remote the Next Normal for Notarization?

The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly reshaped Philippine society in the span of a few months, thanks to a combination of what has been reported as “the world’s longest lockdown,” ever-evolving travel and access restrictions from both the government and the private sector, and strong health and safety concerns from the public in general. These have forced various sectors to scramble for ways to go about their day-to-day dealings as approximately close to how they used to do so pre-COVID.

The legal services industry has been one of the sectors heavily affected. Notaries public have particularly been hindered, given the heavy reliance on face-to-face interactions with their signatories. 

 

Notarization, in the Philippines, is generally not a pre-condition for the validity of legal documents. However, many essential transactions require notarization, such as real estate dealings and submissions to the BIR, LGUs, and many other government agencies. Further, even when notarization is not required, the Philippine public tends to rely on notarization as a source of legitimacy for their transactions. Commerce has thus suffered, with parties finding themselves ready to sign a contract or document but unable to proceed with the transaction for lack of access to a notary.

 

The Supreme Court has thankfully noticed. In July, the Court issued the Interim Rules on Remote Notarization to address these concerns. The Interim Rules do not completely overhaul the notarization system, but they depart from the traditionally “analog” Rules on Notarial Practice in some meaningful ways.

 

The biggest change comes from the introduction of videoconferencing. Under the previous notarial practice, parties were required to appear before notaries and confirm that they voluntarily affixed their signature on a document presented to the notary (in the case of a notarial acknowledgment), or sign and swear to a document before the notary (in case of an affidavit or jurat). The Interim Rules dispense with this personal appearance requirement, in favor of an online appearance by way of videoconference. 

 

Under the Interim Rules, a signatory pre-signs the document and, together with their competent proof of identity (e.g., passport, driver’s license, etc.), couriers the signed document to their notary. Upon receipt, the notary schedules a videoconference with the signatory, during which the notary confirms the signatory’s identity, and requests the signatory to confirm that they voluntarily signed the document. The notary then affixes their notarial seal and certificate per usual practice, but with an annotation that notarization was done by videoconference.

 

An inherent difficulty with any online notarization process is that notarial commissions are necessarily geographical (a notary commissioned in Makati, for example, cannot notarize in Pasig). The Interim Rules have creatively addressed this problem by allowing signatories to present GPS location-enabled devices during the videoconference, in order to validate that they are located within their notary’s commission area. Interestingly, the Rules also allow location validation through landmarks. So if they happen to be in the right location, a signatory can put aside Waze or Google Maps, and instead show their notary the view outside the window.

 

Bowing to security considerations, the Rules include robust safeguards to ensure the integrity of the notarized document. At the outset, the pre-signed document must be sent to the notary in an envelope sealed with the signatory’s initials. The notary opens this sealed envelope only during the videoconference, and the document taken from the envelope must be kept in full view of the signatory throughout the videoconference. 

 

The Rules also have redundant measures for the notary to verify the signature on the document: (1) the signatory must send the notary a video clip of themselves signing the document, (2) during the videoconference, they need to sign a blank piece of paper and show this to the notary for comparison with the signature on the document, and (3) the notary is even required to pose searching questions to satisfy themselves that the signatory freely and voluntarily signed the document.

 

If there is one criticism of the Rules, it would be that they can only be used to notarize documents signed with traditional handwritten or “wet” ink signatures. While other government agencies such as the DICT have made a strong push toward digital methods of signing documents, the restrictions on notarization will undoubtedly dampen the momentum of this shift.

As their name implies, the Interim Rules are only temporary. Applying only to areas placed under Community Quarantine, the Rules will eventually lapse once travel restrictions are completely lifted by the authorities. The Rules, however, are the first step in the right direction. And hopefully the legal community, through the leadership of the Supreme Court, will use the intervening period as an opportunity to take stock of our notarial system and find ways to move it further towards digitization by accommodating electronic and digital signatures on a more permanent basis.


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.