Many misconstrue consumer activism for radicalism. It is not. One serves to increase awareness and initiate action for common good; the other can be considered blind adherence to principles often depicted as misguided and self-absorbed.
In a consumer summit I attended in Manila sometime November this year, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) highlighted the valuable role of consumer organizations in bringing issues on the table. DTI affirmed the critical role of consumer organizations as not mere conduits but as co-initiators of change. Building up the network of consumer groups in the country would therefore achieve wider reach to the most vulnerable and ensure a broader perspective through which government can better appreciate the needs and concerns of consumers.
One question was posed: “Should consumer organizations be accredited?”
While the accreditation process is in place, its strict implementation to DTI may be limiting of the potential of other consumers to group themselves formally into active organizations. Wile you want to forward the cause, accreditation may become a roadblock to advancing it. Overwhelmed by the documentary requirements in accreditation, some back out of the process, hindering the growth of consumer activism.
My views do not seem to breathe the same air. Accreditation in fact professionalizes the process of addressing consumer needs. Consumer groups that are granted accreditation then become more recognized alliances of government. They are more empowered and can with more authority assist in monitoring consumer needs that hit the hardest on the most vulnerable sectors – the poor, senior citizens, youth, women, and those without formal education. Accreditation also provides a categorization of interests and advocacies, and facilitates a comprehensive listing of groups that a can belong to a national network.
The reverse (no accreditation) has the tendency to be abused. Potential issues include mishandling of complaints, misrepresentation, and anomalies, such as extortion.
Closer to home, in Negros Oriental, there is an active consumer organization that has been working hard in tandem with DTI-Negros Oriental on projects ranging from consumer education and awareness, environmentally sustainable business practices to compliance with laws that ensure consumer welfare promotion and consumer protection.
The Consumer Advocates, Inc. (CAI), registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2004, is the first (if not also the only) consumer organization in Region 7 to be granted accreditation by DTI. It was through the lobbying of CAI that the interconnection between Islacom (now Globe) and Cruztelco materialized. When before calls between the two networks in Dumaguete were charged as “long distance”, now – they are free. CAI has also been with DTI-NegOr around the province (Canlaon, Guihulngan, Mabinay, Bayawan, etc.), doing price monitors, consumer awareness campaigns, and validating the utilization of the “Timbangan ng Bayan” – if they are being used in public markets to check the exact weight of purchases.
CAI is under the current leadership of its president Linda Basmayor. Since its inception, it has been coordinating closely with DTI-NegOr through Angeline Gonzales, Chief of the Consumer Welfare Division.
Christmas is one of the best times to justify spending. Many are at least richer by half their month’s salary around December. There is shopping left and right, eating out here and there, and vacations around and outside the country. Christmas is dubbed as one of the “traditional drivers” of the Philippine economy, with the more excessive spending taking place over the months of October to January (making the Philippines one of the countries in the world with the longest Christmas celebration). It is no surprise that sprouting along with this spirit of sharing and giving are all types of fraud and criminality that come in many forms.
As we celebrate the Holidays, here are two reminders:
1. It is illegal for shops, restaurants, hospitals or any establishment that accepts credit or debit cards to pass on the bank charge to customers. Your card should only be swiped for the same amount reflected in the price tag or bill. The amount you pay using your credit/debit card should be the same if you had paid it in cash. It is not allowed for price tags to reflect different amounts: one when paid in cash and another when paid via credit/debit card.
2. The prices in the menu of restaurants should already reflect VAT or sales tax. If restaurants, pastry shops or any food stall violate this — reflecting the VAT or sales tax only in your bill on top of the prices of your order (prices reflected in the menu) — secure a copy of the receipt or billing then attach it to your complaint filed with the DTI.