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By: Atty. Nica Marsha Gasapo on August 13,2020

Covid-19 has caused so many disruptions in our everyday lives. To curb its spread, the government had to impose strict lockdowns that stalled the economy’s growth. However, certain sectors that capitalized on technology managed to stay afloat and withstood the logistical nightmare caused by the pandemic. Because of the crisis, the concept of a “new normal” was introduced, in which the use of technology and the internet is critical.

Of course, the legal sector, recognizing the vital role it serves in sustaining the economy, is making serious efforts to adapt. In a laudable effort to latch onto the new normal, the Supreme Court issued on July 14, 2020 Administrative Circular 20-07-04-SC, or the 2020 Interim Rules on Remote Notarization of Paper Documents. These rules should take effect 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette or in at least two newspapers of national circulation.

By virtue of the interim rules, performing notarial acts through videoconferencing is now permitted in cases where the notary public or at least one of the principals resides, holds office or is in a locality under community quarantine. Accordingly, any notarial act performed through videoconferencing pursuant to the said rules is as valid as any other notarial act under the 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice.

Under the interim rules, when acknowledging or affirming an instrument or document before a notary public, the principal or the person whose act is the subject of notarization shall deliver that instrument or document personally or by courier. The instrument or document must be complete, contains the handwritten signature of the principal and placed in an envelope sealed with his or her initials.

If the principal opts to send the sealed envelope with the instrument or document using a courier service, he or she shall be required to furnish the notary public with the details necessary to track its delivery once available. If the principal is not known to the notary public, he or she is required to provide the latter two copies of any competent evidence of identity. Also, the principal shall be required to show to the notary public the original evidence of his or her identity during the video conference for examination and comparison with the copies provided.

In addition, the principal shall submit to the notary public a video clip showing that the former actually signed the instrument or document to be delivered to the latter for acknowledgment. He or she shall accomplish this through email or any other means of digital communication, or sending a compact disc or universal serial bus stick containing that clip that will be put in a sealed envelope with his or her initials.

After that, a video conference shall be held, in which the notary public shall require the principal to confirm his or her identity and location by using an application with global positioning satellite capabilities or by showing the notary public identifiable landmarks or buildings in the vicinity.

The notary shall then open the sealed envelope in full view of the principal. The principal shall then confirm that the instrument or document exhibited to him or her is the same one delivered for acknowledgement, affirmation or oath. For an instrument requiring an affirmation or oath, the principal shall be required to confirm that he or she has read it entirely and understood its contents, and affix his or her handwritten signature on a blank piece of paper in full view of the notary public for comparison with that appearing on the instrument or document. He or she shall also be required to confirm that the signature at the end of the instrument or document belongs to him or her and that he or she voluntarily affixed the same for the purpose stated therein.

The notary is required to review the video clip submitted to verify that the principal signed the instrument or document as represented. Lastly, the principal shall be required to declare that he or she has executed the instrument or document voluntarily.

The notary public shall assess the principal’s voluntariness by examining his or her demeanor and asking questions. If there is more than one principal, each shall be present either singly or in group/s during the videoconference. Afterward, the notary public shall affix his or her signature thereon by hand and set his or her official seal. The notarial certificate shall state that the notarial act was done by videoconferencing in accordance with the interim rules.

It must be noted that all notarial acts in the interim rules, as with the 2004 rules, shall be performed within the territorial jurisdiction of the court that issued the notary public’s commission. The notary public, principal and witnesses, if any, must be within that territorial jurisdiction during the videoconference. The notary public shall also take a photograph or screenshot of the videoconference that must show him or her holding the instrument or document, with the first page displayed and identifiable. The photograph must also bear a time and date stamp indicating when the videoconference was held. A physical copy of this photograph or screenshot must be attached to the notary public’s notarial register.

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