In the medieval era, the communication of people is limited to papers and scrolls, delivered manually either by couriers or animals. In this period, information and communication travelled across nations in a snail's pace. As the centuries go by, the advent of industrialization has allowed civilization to progress dramatically. With what started out as steam powered devices, quickly got enhanced to harvest the power of the atom. The boom of industrialization paved the way for globalization and communication as to make the world that much smaller.
The birth of the Internet gave man the ability to communicate with one another half-way across the world in a blink of an eye. It also spawned a new reality; one of virtual reality, existing simultaneously with the real-world and often times, gets tangled and intertwined with issues so perplexing, a fine line must be drawn to separate the two.
This "virtual Reality" has opened a lot of doors for people. An endless array of opportunity has been unlocked, so much so, that even unscrupulous personalities have entered the system and used it as their new play ground for criminal activities, prompting the Government to regulate the activities in cyberspace to combat cybercrime. With the limited intrusion of the Government of the internet, users have expressed their opinion in a single unified voice, calling for the establishment of "Internet Rights" as inimical to their freedom of speech, as well as privacy of communications.
Like all rights, none is ever absolute. The Government, in the exercise of police-power, has enacted several laws intended to regulate the activities conducted over the internet, e.g. E-commerce Act and Cybercrime Law. In response to these government regulations, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has drafted a Bill, touted as the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom. This bill seeks to establish Rights of internet users, as well as provide for a frame-work for the proper regulation of the internet.
CYBERCRIME COURTS AND ITS JURISDICTION
The author of this paper is of the opinion that the house bill can still be improved by amending the provisions pertaining to designation and jurisdiction of the Cybercrime Courts. Section 66 of the Bill proposed the creation of a specialized courts, dubbed as "Cybercrime courts" to be designated by the Supreme Court, as well as provide for its rules of procedure[i].
Section 66. Cybercrime courts. –
(a) Designation of Cybercrime Courts and Promulgation of Procedural Rules. – The Supreme Court shall designate the court or courts, manned by judges of competence, integrity, probity and independence in the practice of law, and competent in matters related to the Internet and information and communications technology, that will hear and resolve cases brought under this Act and shall promulgate the rules of pleading, practice and procedure to govern the proceedings brought under this Act.
(c) Suit filed at the cybercrime court agreed upon by the parties for civil violations of the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom. – Except in cases that are extraterritorial, foreign, international, and transnational in nature, all suits related to civil violations of this Act shall be filed at the cybercrime court agreed upon by the parties. Should the parties be unable to reach an agreement, the Court of Appeals shall determine the cybercrime court that shall have jurisdiction over the case.
The author submits that the designation of the cybercrime courts can be dispensed with and the jurisdiction of such court as found in Sec 67 should be transferred to the Regional Trial Court. The creation of a specialized cybercrime courts would take a long time because the Supreme Court must designate such courts. Absent such designation, the passage of such bill would not automatically create a specialized courts. Second, putting practicality at the forefront, the Regional Trial Court will be the default court in situations where there exist no specialized courts in special circumstances.[ii] It is apparent that there are certain provinces with only a single-sala court or only one (1) Regional Trial Court[iii], as such there will exist a situation where a province or even a city, will not have a Cybercrime court. The Regional Trial Court becomes the default court as its aptly described as a Court of General Jurisdiction.[iv]
Section 19. Jurisdiction in civil cases. – Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction:
(1) In all civil actions in which the subject of the litigation is incapable of pecuniary estimation;
(6) In all cases not within the exclusive jurisdiction of any court, tribunal, person or body exercising jurisdiction or any court, tribunal, person or body exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions;
Section 20. Jurisdiction in criminal cases. – Regional Trial Courts shall exercise exclusive original jurisdiction in all criminal cases not within the exclusive jurisdiction of any court, tribunal or body, except those now falling under the exclusive and concurrent jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan which shall hereafter be exclusively taken cognizance of by the latter
Thus, considering practicality and the present reality, the Regional Trial Court also has jurisdiction over the matter in issue.
To further strengthen the argument, the qualifications of a judge that would be appointed to the Cybercrime courts as found in Sec. 66(b) courts has similar if not the same qualifications that of a regional trial court judge[v].
Section 66. Cybercrime courts. –
(b) Qualifications of the Presiding Judges of cybercrime courts. – No person shall be appointed a Presiding Judge of the Cybercrime Court unless he:
(i) is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines;
(ii) is at least thirty-five (35) years of age;
(iii) has been engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines for at least ten (10) years, or has held a public office in the Philippines requiring admission to the practice of law as an indispensable requisite; and,
(iv) has an academic or professional background in information and communications technology, computer science, or engineering; or has proven a high degree of competence in the use of the Internet and information and communications technology.
B.P. 129 prescribes the qualification for a Regional Trial Court Judge, as found in Sec. 15.[vi]
Section 15. Qualifications. – No persons shall be appointed Regional Trial Judge unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, at least thirty-five years of age, and for at least ten years, has been engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines or has held a public office in the Philippines requiring admission to the practice of law as an indispensable requisite
The proposed bill only added a qualification to the already existing requirement for a Regional Trial Court Judge. However, the author is of the position that the additional requirement found in Sec. 66(iv) of the proposed bill can be dispensed with given the fact that in today's judicial system, judges of trial court are already applying laws regarding Information technology.[vii] At the very least, judges are required to have rudimentary knowledge of communication systems, as well as electronic information. That being the case, Judges are presumed equipped to know the basic know-how of communications technology.
A last argument on the matter is one of public necessity. Almost all of the populace has access or has used the internet in one way or another. The implementation of the proposed bill carries with it both civil and penal provisions. The designation of a Regional Trial Court instead of a specialized cybercrime courts will eliminate any confusion to both the common people and legal practitioners.
GROUP BUYING WEBSITES
Perusing through the proposed bill, it does not address the current on-line development of "group buying websites." Group Buying Websites are described as" sites offering products and services at significantly reduced prices on the condition that a minimum number of buyers would make the purchase."[viii] The main feature of these websites are the lower prices for either products or services. However, taking a close scrutiny of the principal actions of these websites would reveal that they are neither the sellers or agents of such merchants and that the sites are just conduits between the parties who collect a certain a commission on the deal.[ix]
In this current set up, the consumers or on-line buyers are susceptible to fraudulent transactions and false advertising. Taking the position of the Group Buying sites that they are just the channels for the actual merchants and on-line buyers, then they avoid liability in the event that a deal turns sour or that the merchant fails to perform its obligation once the buyer has already deposited the payment.
Currently, there are no legislative bills that will protect an on-line buyer from unscrupulous merchant, who, more often than not, can no longer be located once the deal has been done. Buyers look to these Group Buying websites for recourse. However, the closest statute on the matter is RA 7394 of the Consumer Act of the Philippines,[x] particularly Article 50 stated as:
ARTICLE 50. Prohibition Against Deceptive Sales Acts or Practices - A deceptive act or practice by a seller or supplier in connection with a consumer transaction violates this Act whether it occurs before, during or after the transaction. An act or practice shall be deemed deceptive whenever the producer, manufacturer, supplier or seller, through concealment, false representation of fraudulent manipulation, induces a consumer to enter into a sales or lease transaction of any consumer product or service. Without limiting the scope of the above paragraph, the act or practice of a seller or supplier is deceptive when it represents that:
a) a consumer product or service has the sponsorship, approval, performance, characteristics, ingredients, accessories, uses, or benefits it does not have;
b) a consumer product or service is of a particular standard, quality, grade, style, or model when in fact it is not;
c) a consumer product is new, original or unused, when in fact, it is in a deteriorated, altered, reconditioned, reclaimed or second-hand state;
d) a consumer product or service is available to the consumer for a reason that is different from the fact;
e) a consumer product or service has been supplied in accordance with the previous representation when in fact it is not;
f) a consumer product or service can be supplied in a quantity greater than the supplier intends;
g) a service, or repair of a consumer product is needed when in fact it is not;
h) a specific price advantage of a consumer product exists when in fact it is not;
i) the sales act or practice involves or does not involve a warranty, a disclaimer of warranties, particular warranty terms or other rights, remedies or obligations if the indication is false; and the seller or supplier has a sponsorship, approval, or affiliation he does not have.
However, such law only punishes the producer, manufacturer and the seller. The Group Buying sites are not among the mentioned categories because they are simply conduits of them (Producer, manufacturer and seller) and the on-line buyers. The Group Buying websites can avoid any liability because they have no part in the transaction, putting them in the grey-area of the law.
The author is of the submission that on-line buyers must also be protected and afforded rights against such situation where they, on-line buyers, are at the mercy of unscrupulous on-line sellers and Group Buying sites. On-line sellers could simply vanish into thin air after the deal has been done leaving duped on-line sellers hanging out to dry. At the same time, the platform in which the deal has been consummated took place in the domain of these Group Buying sites who have no direct and explicit responsibility to any party. Once an on-line buyer has been cheated, they cannot hold the Group Buying Sites responsible because of their respective defense, despite the fact that the Group Buying sites are the first thing that the on-line sellers would see and more often than not, interact with via the internet.
The author submits that affording on-line buyers certain rights for their protection and possible recourse against both the on-line sellers and Group Buying Sites. The author proposes that Article 50 of the Consumer Act be amended in the Bill to be stated as:
ARTICLE 50. Prohibition Against Deceptive Sales Acts or Practices - A deceptive act or practice by a seller or supplier or Group Buying Website in connection with a consumer transaction violates this Act whether it occurs before, during or after the transaction. An act or practice shall be deemed deceptive whenever the producer, manufacturer, supplier or seller, through concealment, false representation of fraudulent manipulation, induces a consumer to enter into a sales or lease transaction of any consumer product or service. Without limiting the scope of the above paragraph, the act or practice of a seller or supplier is deceptive when it represents that:
The author also suggests that there be enacted a mechanism to enable on-line buyer a realistic recourse to recover whatever they have paid to a seller via the domain provided by these Group Buying websites. Also, the highest degree of diligence must be exercised by these Group Buying Websites, similar to the degree of diligence that a common carrier must show exhibit[xi] due to the fact that on-line buyers are in a precarious situation where they are  not negotiating on equal footing because availing of discounted prices are contracts of adhesion, and  The increased probability that such seller will abscond with the money of the buyer while the Group Buying sites will still get their commission in whatever way the deal will go.
While the Bill focuses on the rights of On-line users against criminality, the same mantle of protection must also be given to on-line buyers for they are a much smaller demographic of on-line users with pecuniary interest on the matter.
[i] Senate Bill No. 53. Magna Carta For Philippine Internet Freedom. November 30, 2012
[ii] Transfer To The Regional Trial Courts Of Cases Falling Within The Jurisdiction Of The Family Courts From The Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Court In Cities, Municipal Trial Courts And Municipal Circuit Trial Court. A.M. No 11-09. February 23, 1999
[iii] Batas Pambansa No. 129. An Act reorganizing the judiciary, appropriating funds therefor and for the other purposes. August 14, 1981
[iv] Id. Sec. 19-20
[v] Supra. Note i. Sec. 66(b)
[vi] Supra Note iii. Sec. 15
[vii] Rules on Electronic Evidence. A.M. No. 01-7-01-SC
[viii] Diana Lutgarda P. Bonilla et al., Group Buying Sites: Deal or No Deal, available at http://lawandict.blogspot.com/2012/03/group-buying-sites-deal-or-no-deal.html (last accessed May 6, 2014)
[ix] Metrodeal.com., Terms and Agreement. Available at http://www.metrodeal.com/terms (last Accessed May 6, 2014)
[x] CONSUMER ACT OF THE PHILIPPINES. Republic Act No 7394. April 13, 1992
[xi] An Act to Ordain and Institute the Civil Code of the Philippines [Civil Code], Act No. 3815. Article 1733. (1950).