19 October 2021 – Secretary Jeremiah Belgica, Director General of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), thanked the Commission on Audit (COA) for recognizing the legitimacy of digital signatures, which he believed will further streamline government processes.

Sec. Belgica said there is no more reason now for government offices to refuse using digital signatures in the submission of their documents as even COA encourages its use in government practice.

“Through this recent issuance by COA, we hope that there will be no more hesitancy from the government agencies to shift their practice from manual to digital documentations,” he said.

“We will now be including on our process and systems audit and review the subscription of the agencies, especially their head, with the digital signature facility that DICT is now offering for free. Wala nang dahilan para hindi sila gumamit ng digital signatures sa kanilang daily operations,” he added.

The ARTA chief said there are two common reasons why government agencies hesitate in using digital signatures: one is security and two is COA auditing.

Sec. Belgica clarified that e-signatures, that are merely copy-pasted on documents are different from digital signatures as these are more secure and sophisticated.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology-Philippine National Public Key Infrastructure (DICT-PNPKI) is a system that uses paired keys to provide security and authentication for electronic information transfers.

“Digital signatures may only be applied to a particular gadget of the owner and are equipped with passwords and other security features that ensure the true identity of the person signing. If you are using passwords and other online security features in your cellphones and computers then it will not be hard for you to use digital signature technology as well, ” Sec. Belgica said.

COA Circular No. 2021-006 was issued on 06 September 2021 to “prescribe guidance on the use of electronic signatures for accountability purposes to resolve doubts over the reliability of information to be used as audit evidence.”

This covers audited agencies that submit electronic documents to the auditor in lieu of paper documents, where the signature of an authorized signatory is required.

It also clarified that the Circular does not prohibit an audited agency from submitting paper documents or a combination of paper and electronic documents.

In the Circular, COA cited the Authority’s mandate of streamlining government processes as basis for the adoption of use of digital signatures.

“The Anti-Red Tape Authority intensifies its drive to streamline the processes in all government entities and take advantage of technology, especially in the event of a disaster or any state of emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic as it allows government officials to approve transactions and make payments without necessarily being physically present,” the Circular read.

COA also cited its own Circular No. 2009-073, dated 23 July 2009, which requires state auditors to ensure that their audited agencies providing electronic services to their clients will be implementing the use of digital signature in their respective e-government services, and Circular No. 2004-006, issued on 9 September 2004, that implies the admissibility of digitally-signed documents in audit.