Sabornido, Noemi: Utilization of technology in the promotion of the intent of previously enacted Philippine laws

Yesterday, life was so simple yet so hard. Today, it becomes so complex yet so easy. What will it be tomorrow?

Introduction

When the world was then young, people had little concerns in their everyday living. The needs were very basic, that is, merely to have food, clothing and shelter. They depended largely on the environment to suffice those needs by gathering everything beneficial to their sustenance through the use of their bare hands. In terms of human relations, it was confined to the walls of their homes. They minded their own affairs to the exclusion of others. Life was complete if in a day people were able to eat, had something to cover their bodies and had a place to rest and sleep.

Though life in early times seemed so simple, it does not mean it was easy. The night was characterized by darkness, except for the natural light brought about by the moon, the stars and the fireflies. Food was not cooked. Traveling, no matter far, was done either by foot or with the use of animals.

Consistent with a person’s innate sense of doing something in order to make living more comfortable, technology started to evolve and develop. At first, people learned to make and use tools which facilitated food gathering, fishing and hunting, and which led to the discovery of how to cultivate the land. These tools likewise helped them to improve their clothing and their shelter. Later on, numerous inventions and discoveries emerged to an extent almost, if not totally, unimaginable. The evolution and development of technology resulted to complications in various facets of life. The needs, this time coupled with wants, of the people rocketed and are now sky-high. Human relations expanded from the family to the community, from nationwide to world-wide, and even farther.

Indeed, life at present looks so complex, but it is far more comfortable and a hundred fold easier than before. Darkness is eradicated in the sense that what can be done at daytime can now be done even at nighttime with the presence of bulbs and lamps. Distance is closed with the existence of transportation and communication devices, from ordinary bicycle to extraordinary rocket, from plain telephone to complicated internet. Efficiency can possibly be defined with the advent of and advancement in machines and related gadgets.

Law in the Era of Technological Advancement

Technology is variedly defined depending on how it will be viewed or how it will be used. It can refer to any thing or object, or to a system or process, which comes into existence because of the need or desire to make day to day tasks easier, to remove the barriers which prevent the attainment of a goal, to solve the problems that befall humanity. It can be applied to a particular activity, component of the environment, part of a human body, or field of study, or to a general classification of things or processes. It can affect all aspects of human activity—the way we eat, the way we communicate, the way we travel, the way we work, the way we play, the way we think, the way we live.

Inventions and discoveries all over the world continuously abound from the time the ancient people learned to use tools and up to this present time. Technological development flourished giving an impression that technology can satisfy all the desires of the people and can solve all the problems of the world. In this era where technological advancements respond to everything, are laws still necessary? Is there a role left for them to play?

Law, in its most generic sense, means “any rule of action, norm of conduct, or expression of uniformity”. [1] Just like technology, law encompasses everything, albeit in a different context. Law focuses more on relationships, whether between objects, between persons, or between objects and persons. It affects objects and persons by regulating the relationship between and among them. It regulates such relationships through a set of standards, norms or rules which the subject has to follow. It aims to maintain order and stability.

Laws are classified in a variety of ways and the general types of laws include the divine law, the moral law, the natural law, the physical law and the state law. Each of these types of laws has its peculiar subject matter and characteristics that differentiate one from the other.

  1. Divine law is the system of rules which regulates the operations of the universe according to the will of God; [2]
  2. Moral law is the aggregate of all the rules of human conduct growing out of the collective sense of right and wrong of the community; [3]
  3. Natural law is the existence of certain fundamental precepts of life which are discoverable through divine inspiration and the use of reason; [4]
  4. Physical law is the composition of methods of uniformity and regularity in the operations of nature; [5] and,
  5. State law is the body of rules in connection with the government or the administration of justice, which is variously called positive law, imperative law or municipal law and which is the appropriate subject matter of jurisprudence.[6]

Technology is undoubtedly a gift to mankind considering the uncountable benefits it gives to the people world-wide. However, technology is not the only factor that affects the society. There are other factors, such as the people’s belief in God, their culture, the environment and the like, which also influence the society and interact with technology and with one another. The interactions between and among these factors produce varied results—many are good, some are not so good, and there are really bad.

Amidst the numerous advantages technological advancements offer, some technology-related outcomes cannot be ignored. A number of technological processes bring into existence harmful and unpleasant by-products which not only endanger the health and life of people but also pollute the environment. Imagine a factory that disposes its toxic waste products into the river or into the soil, or a vehicle which emits dark fumes into the air. Many technological products when used create a fortune for some but poverty for many. How can a simple fisherman generate more profits than a fish magnate who uses dynamite in fishing? Do people living near the quarry sites or mining areas should always have the money to build their houses when explosives are employed by operators in quarrying and mining activities? Experiments sometimes become offensive to the believers of God or the faithful when the foundation and bases of their faith are subjected to scrutiny and laboratory analysis. Do you remember “Dolly”? How about “Polly”?

Technological development is a continuing process and it is turning out to be much more sophisticated from one invention or discovery to another. Laws, on the other hand, must adequately be in placed and must timely play its role of maintaining order and stability while technological advancements take the natural course. With the unlimited scope of technological development and the velocity of its reeling, it would be dangerous and chaotic if laws will not be there and function to preserve the peace.

Technology in the Enactment of Laws

In the Philippines, the legislative power, which means “the power to make, alter, amend and repeal laws”, [7] is vested in the Congress which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives, except to the extent reserved to the people by the provision on initiative and referendum. [8]

The enactment of laws is a tedious process which commences with the introduction of a bill, or the filing of a copy of the proposed law, to the Bills and Index Service of Congress. A bill may emanate from either Chamber, except that all appropriation, revenue or tariff bills, bills authorizing increase of the public debt, bills of local application, and private bills shall originate exclusively in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments. [9]

The filed bill will be numbered and included in the Order of Business. The numbered bill will be reproduced and distributed to the members of Congress. The Secretary will submit the bill to the Chamber for first reading by literally reading the title, number and sponsor of the bill. The bill will then be referred to the appropriate standing committee or committees. The committee or committees will analyze the bill, consult the experts and the public through hearings, and consider studies and position papers.

The committee report, which contains the recommendations regarding the bill, will be filed with the Bills and Index Service and submitted to the Committee on Rules for inclusion in the Calendar of Business for second reading. During the second reading, the sponsor will deliver his speech on the bill, and the bill will undergo the period of debates, the period of amendments and the approval on second reading.

The bill, which was approved on second reading, shall comply with the three-day requirement prior to its approval on third reading, except when the President of the Philippines certifies to the necessity its immediate enactment. [10] In the meantime that the bill is awaiting approval on third reading, the amended copy is printed, reproduced and distributed to the members of Congress. During the third reading, amendments will no longer be allowed, [11] and once the bill is approved on third reading, it will be transmitted to the other Chamber and will go through the same process.

If the Chamber to which the bill was transmitted did not interpose any amendment, an enrolled bill, or the bill duly signed by the Presiding Officers and Secretaries of both Chambers, will be sent to the Office of the President for approval. If the Chambers passed different versions of the bill, the differences will be reconciled first through a Bicameral Conference Committee before an enrolled bill will be forwarded to the Office of the President. If the President signs the enrolled bill or if he does not communicate his veto to the Chamber where the bill originated within thirty days from receipt, the bill becomes a law. [12]

Technology is also applied in law-making, though at present it is limited to the employment of typical office and communication equipment. Documents are prepared, stored, produced and reproduced through the use of electronic typewriters, computers, printers and photocopiers. Transmission of documents through fax and e-mail messages is not yet fully accepted as official transmission but is usually appreciated as advance copy while waiting for the delivery of the official document. Communication equipment includes the landline and the mobile phones, as well as the internet.

The process of passing a piece of legislation is still dependent on paper-based documents but these documents are now prepared, produced and reproduced at a faster rate. Public hearings and floor deliberations are recorded through video and audio recordings for documentation purposes. Projectors are sometimes utilized during presentation in order to clearly demonstrate the topic and during delivery of speeches for better understanding of the subject matter. In terms of storage of legislative history, the bulk pertaining to the old laws is archived manually and in hard copies only. Recently, a website was created to facilitate access to information on matters related to legislation; however, it only covers the previous and the present Congresses.

Utilization of Technology in Promoting the Intent of Existing Laws

It is of common knowledge that the some of the widely-used, if not the most important, pieces of legislation of the Philippines were enacted several decades ago. General laws such as the Revised Penal Code was passed in 1930, the Civil Code in 1950, and the Labor Code in 1974. Considering the speed technological advancements is going, it affects, in one way or another, the provisions contained in the existing laws, particularly the much older ones.

Take for instance the issue of publication in the crime of libel, a crime categorized as one against honor and specifically defined under the Revised Penal Code as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead”. [13] One of the essential requisites to make a person liable for the crime of libel is that the imputation must be made publicly, or that there must be publication of the imputation. But the concept of publication has already evolved as a consequence of technological progress—there is now the Internet with its vast communication reach all over the world. Fortunately, the Revised Penal Code likewise provided for the means on how the crime of libel may be committed, and that is by “writing, printing, lithography, engraving, radio, photograph, painting, theatrical exhibition, cinematographic exhibition and other similar means”, [14] and posting on the internet may be included under the catch-all phrase “other similar means”. However, crimes prescribe and venue is jurisdictional in criminal cases, which make the publication aspect of the crime, when done through the internet, becomes more complicated but this complication is very much welcome because it manifests that development is continuing.

The issue of publication in the crime of libel is expanded with the advent of the internet and it only shows that technology can somehow promote the intent of an existing law, in this case the Revised Penal Code, by supplying other means resulting from technological efforts by which the provisions of the law can validly apply. Since technology extends the application of the intent of the Revised Penal Code in the crime of libel, it may also hold true with some other laws, like the Civil Code in its provisions on Registries.

There are two (2) significant registries under the Civil Code: (1) the Civil Registry and (2) the Property Registry. In the Civil Registry, the acts, events and judicial decrees concerning the civil status of persons are recorded; [15] while, in the Registry of Property, the inscription or annotation of acts and contracts relating to the ownership and other rights over immovable property are its object. [16]

The books making up the Civil Registry and all documents relating thereto are considered public documents and are prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein. [17] Being as such, these books are open to the public but subject to regulations. The Civil Registry Law, a special law, provides that the “books…and all documents…shall be open to the public during office hours and shall be kept in a suitable safe which shall be furnished to the local registrar at the expense of the general fund of the municipality concerned. The local registrar shall not under any circumstances permit any document entrusted to his care to be removed from his office, except by order of a court, in which case the proper receipt shall be taken. The local civil registrar may issue certified copies of any document filed, upon payment of the proper fees required in this Act”.[18] Likewise, the disclosure of birth records is limited by the Child and Youth Welfare Code, which states that “records of a person’s birth shall be kept strictly confidential and no information relating thereto shall be issued except on the request of any of the following:

  1. The person himself, or any person authorized by him;
  2. His spouse, his parent or parents, his direct descendants, or the guardian or institution legally in charge of him if he is a minor;
  3. The court or proper public official whenever absolutely necessary in administrative, judicial or other official proceedings to determine the identity of the child’s parents or other circumstances surrounding his birth; and
  4. In case of the person’s death, the nearest of kin.” [19]

On the other hand, the books in the Property Registry are also considered public for those who have a known interest in ascertaining the status of the immovables or real rights annotated or inscribed therein; [20] however, in determining what titles are subject to inscription or annotation, as well as the form, effects, and cancellation of inscriptions and annotations, the manner of keeping the books in the Registry, and the value of the entries contained in said books, the provisions of the Mortgage Law, the Land Registration Act, and other special laws shall govern. [21]

The undeniable importance of these major registries needs no further emphasis since it concerns everybody, but the difficulty in obtaining information or documents contained in these registries are sometimes disappointing because that would mean a series of visits and long queues in the Registry concerned. The tiresome process is understandable in the sense that these procedures are in placed in order to protect the integrity and genuineness of these books and documents. The legislators included a penalty for unauthorized alteration in the records and even subjected to liabilities the officers in charge of such records if they remiss in their duties. No less than the Supreme Court concurs with the intent of the lawmakers in protecting the integrity of the books and documents in the registries when it promulgated the rule on the irremovability of public record.

The inconvenience of the present system in obtaining public records can be reduced by utilizing appropriate technology which will also not violate the aforementioned provisions of law. The computerization of records and its publication online, subject to limitations expressly provided by existing laws, will certainly facilitate the process and save, not necessarily money but, time and effort. The intent of the law to protect the integrity of public records will likewise be enhanced not only because safety nets can be installed but also because frequency of handling the original paper-based document and exposure to physical hazards will be lessened if not totally avoided.

Another possible application of technology in law is in marriage, but some would immediately object to the mere idea of it because marriage, as expressly provided by law, is not only a special contract but an inviolable social institution which is the foundation of the family.[22]

The notion of utilizing technology in marriage came about with the trend in online gaming wherein participants in virtual community meet, became friends and develop romantic relationships, which sometimes lead to marriage by entering an online chapel chat room. Players can plan their wedding as if it is real and exchange vows while the ordained minister and the guests are also online. The couple will remain married, have children, and maintain their virtual family. But, this is just an online game and done only for fun. Of course, it has no legal effect.

The idea of using technology in marriage was further boosted by a news report sometime last May that license was being sought for the celebration of marriage while a chartered plane is in flight. If technology is available, maximizing its function is not a bad idea. One area in marriage where the benefit of technology can be adopted is in cases of marriage in articulo mortis, wherein the element of time is essential because of the condition of either or both of the contracting parties. Consider a situation wherein either or both parties are at the point of death and they are in different countries, or one is in a location where a quarantine of the place was ordered just like what happened recently with the emergence of the influenza A or H1N1 virus. Are they not entitled to a valid marriage? What about if they have children already, can these children be deprived of being legitimated? Where are the general principles of equity and justice?

Technological innovation is improving as time passes by. Video-conferencing is becoming popular nowadays and it can be utilized in certain situations provided adequate safeguards are imbedded in order not to frustrate the ends of justice. Whatever flaw is currently in the system will most likely be remedied by technology itself so long as the efforts to address it will not be ignored.

Conclusion

Technology and law are two strong interdependent variables in society and the world. They should complement and not contradict each other in maintaining order and stability while solving the problems and addressing the needs of the people and its environment. Is it not wiser to actively exploit existing technology in order to promote the intent of existing laws and in order to enact laws that truly respond to the demands of the time, instead of letting technology progresses leaving laws obsolete and ineffective? It is not better to observe the laws in order to enjoy more the advantages, than suffer the disadvantages, brought about by technological advancement?


Endnotes

[1] Gamboa, Melquiades J., “An Introduction to Philippine Law”, 7th Ed., p. 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 4

[6] Ibid.

[7] Black’s Law Dictionary, Abridged 5th Ed., p. 468.

[8] CONST. 1987, art. VI, sec. 1.

[9] CONST. 1987, art. VI, sec. 24.

[10] CONST. 1987, art. VI, sec. 26, par. (2).

[11] CONST. 1987, art. VI, sec. 26, par. (2).

[12] CONST. 1987, art. VI, sec. 27, par. (1).

[13] RPC, art. 353.

[14] RPC, art. 355.

[15] CC, art. 407.

[16] CC, art. 708.

[17] CC, art. 410

[18] RA 3753, sec. 13.

[19] PD 603, art. 7.

[20] CC, art. 710.

[21] CC, art. 711.

[22] FC, art. 1.

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