On 14 July 2020, the Supreme Court issued A.M. No. 20-07-04-SC or the 2020 Interim Rules on Remote Notarization of Paper Documents (“RON Rules”), supplementing the existing 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice. The RON Rules take effect on 16 August 2020, or fifteen (15) days after they were published on 01 August 2020 in the Philippine Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The RON Rules provide for the performance of notarial acts, including acknowledgments, oaths and affirmations, witnessing, marking or thumb-marking, and copy certification, even without the physical presence normally required of the principal. Notwithstanding this, notarial acts performed under the RON Rules will have the “same validity, force, effect and may be relied upon to the same extent as any other notarial act performed under the 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice”. [RON Rules, Rule I, Sec. 5] Hence, the RON Rules impose stringent additional requirements [RON Rules, Rules II to VI] to safeguard the integrity of the notarial process, which is the basis for legal presumptions in favor of notarized documents.
Generally, documents for notarization under the RON Rules are first executed by the principal. These are then delivered, in an envelope sealed with the initials of the principal, to the notary public by personal or courier service. Copies of the proper competent evidence of identity and, when applicable, a video clip showing the actual execution or witnessing of the document by the principal should be enclosed in the same sealed envelope.
In turn, the notary public is required to verify, via videoconference, the voluntary execution of the document, as well as the presence of the principal and/or the witnesses in the same territorial jurisdiction of the court that issued the notary’s commission. This is consistent with the 2004 Rules on Notarial Practice, which limits the authority of notaries public to the said jurisdiction. These facts, among others, must be included in the notarial certificate appended to the document. [RON Rules, Rule VIII, Section 5] Photographs or screenshots of the videoconference, containing required elements such as time and date stamps, must also be produced and attached to the notarial register and the two (2) copies retained by the notary public. [RON Rules, Rule VIII, Sections 2-4]
In addition to the regular notarial fees, principals are to shoulder the expenses for the reproduction, delivery, and retrieval of the documents. [RON Rules, Rule VII, Section 2]
The promulgation of the RON Rules was preceded by a request from the legal community, through the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, for adjustments to the notarization process due to public health and mobility issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. While electronic notarization has been contemplated as early as 2000 in the Electronic Commerce Act and 2001 through the Rules on Electronic Evidence, the Supreme Court has yet to issue the corresponding special rules.