Wake Up, Philippines!

Action center for senior citizens

Posted in Consumer, Senior Citizens by Erineus on March 16, 2009

VICE President Noli “Kabayan” De Castro (that’s how he signed his name) wrote to say he agreed fully with my Feb. 15 column that “(p)romos and discounts given to all customers cannot nullify, modify or circumvent the senior citizens law.” He was referring to my opinion that hotel and restaurant outlets that have already reduced their prices via sales or promotional discounts must still grant an additional 20-percent discount for senior citizens.

E-mail deluge. That Feb. 15 column brought an e-mail deluge. Ben Canlas, who hosts the “Senior Citizens’ Forum” every Sunday over dwIZ 882, wrote that, at his request, Noli Villafuerte of the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) in Makati called up the Makati Shangri-la and the Manila Peninsula. The two hotels agreed with my opinion and promised to “rectify their shortcomings” in refusing to honor the seniors’ discount on top of their own sales discounts.

To test this promise, I treated my family (my wife, two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren) to a Japanese dinner on Feb. 28 at the Inagiku Restaurant of the Makati Shangri-la. After I handed my credit card, “Senses” discount card, and my wife’s and my senior citizens cards, the waiter balked, saying that he could honor only the discount card but no longer the seniors’ discount.

I replied that before refusing, he should first consult his manager. He returned with a wide grin and handed me the invoice (called “guest cheque”) showing a “Senior Citizen Disc” of P435 for my wife and me, and a “Senses Open Disc” of P1,856 corresponding to a 20-percent reduction for all of us. I happily signed the credit card charge slip. Note that the restaurant honored the two discounts of 20 percent each even if I paid with a credit card.

Retired Judge Federico Y. Alikpala Jr. complained that “many, if not most, restaurants” did not extend the elderly discount on “take out orders,” and some, “like McDonald’s,” imposed a maximum of P30-discount, regardless of the amount of consumption. He also suggested that, to be fair, the 20-percent seniors’ discount should be charged in full to the seller’s income taxes—as was the case under the original statute—instead of to the seller’s gross income under the present “expanded” law. In this way, the government would be shouldering the full cost of the discount.

Federico H. Lizarondo independently confirmed Judge Alikpala’s lament on the maximum P30-discount. He added that some professionals jacked up their fees before giving discounts, thereby charging the same price.

Rudy Coronel supported Judge Alikpala’s proposal to charge the entire discount to the government, arguing that making the seller absorb the greater bulk of the price reduction was “downright inequitable” and that, in any event, the law did not contain clear guidelines on how exactly business establishments could “collect from the government what is due them without much hassles.”

Burger King grants discounts. I spoke with Alberto D. Lina, chairman of Burger King, during the Fedex golf tournament in Canlubang on Feb. 27. He assured me that all outlets of Burger King honor the 20-percent seniors’ discount, whether paid in cash or via credit cards.

Retired Air Force Col. Rocky B. Denoga rued that “not one doctor or dentist I’ve consulted with or who treated me has ever given me any discount even when I asked for it.” Jun Guiao went at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28 to the Red Ribbon restaurant “along President Avenue, BF Homes to buy a birthday cake.” He was granted the discount only if he paid cash, but not with a credit card.

After being told of my opinion that the discount should be given even if payment is by credit card, the fast-food outlet called up Guiao “at 2 p.m.” on March 2 agreeing to honor the seniors’ discount even when paid with credit cards. Now, according to Guiao, “the senior citizens around BF Homes are very happy” to patronize Red Ribbon.

Better implementation needed. In his long letter, Vice President De Castro said that, at his intercession, “drugstores (led by no less than the Mercury Drug chain) agreed to honor the 20-percent discount… even for credit card purchases.” I replied that there are still many little details of the law that have not been fully implemented, or that seniors find difficulty in enforcing.

For instance, Gil Guzman asked how he could avail of the tax exemption granted to the elderly. Cromwell O. Refuerzo wondered why seniors are charged the 12-percent VAT that reduces the seniors’ discount to only 8 percent. There are other benefits that cry for implementation, like the provision of express lanes, priority in airport counters and reserved parking.

True, the Expanded Senior Citizens Law (Republic Act 9257)—of which Vice President De Castro was the main author and sponsor while he was still a senator—mandated all cities and municipalities to create the Office for Senior Citizens Affairs.

However, there is no uniform interpretation or enforcement of the law on a centralized level. Consequently, I suggested—and the Vice President agreed—that his office should act as a national action center for the enforcement of the Senior Citizens Law as well as a forum to hear people who are prejudiced by the law’s wrong implementation.

Thus, whenever they have queries or suggestions, the elderly (and those acting on their behalf) may now visit, call or write Kabayan at the 7th floor, PNB Bldg., Macapagal Boulevard., Pasay City; Tel. 833-4507; E-mail vp@ovp.gov.ph

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Comments are welcome at chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com


Medicines still expensive despite law

Posted in Congress, Consumer, Laws, Legislation, Medicine, Pharmaceuticals by Erineus on February 27, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:09:00 02/27/2009

The Cheaper Medicines Bill was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in June 2008. Eight months have passed since then and the costs of the medicines that we regularly buy as “maintenance” to keep ourselves “alive” on Earth have remained the same, i.e., “napakamahal pa rin” [still very expensive].

The big question is: When will this law be finally implemented? Will this law follow the sad pattern of many other laws that have come (and gone) before it, turning out to be mere pieces of papers and creating false hopes among our people?

It is indeed very sad to admit that the executive branch of government has gained notoriety for the non-implementation of many laws. This being the case, Congress might as well stop making laws, otherwise the un-implemented laws will just continue to pile up and, worse, we will just be wasting a lot of money. (We all know it costs millions of pesos to pass a single bill in Congress.)

PAUL R. MORTEL, MBLA Court, Malanday, Marikina City


New consumerism

Posted in Consumer by Erineus on February 27, 2009

A new organization, Consumers Action for Empowerment, was launched last Friday through the initiative of several health organizations, in coordination with professional groups (physicians, pharmacists) as well as community organizations, mainly from urban poor areas.

Consumers Action will initially tackle the issue of cheaper medicines, a choice that not only reflects the health background of its founders but also the priorities of their community organizations. One of the members of the new coalition is an organization of kidney patients, and their representative spoke at the launching ceremonies about living day to day and seeing fellow patients die because they could not afford the medicines.

I was asked to deliver the keynote address where I referred back to a column I did two years ago, “Wanted: Consumerism,” which reviewed the history of consumerism, with a focus on the Philippines. In the 1980s and 1990s, my work with health NGOs involved establishing linkages with the International Organization of Consumers Unions. We have had no lack of consumer groups, but the good ones have gone dormant. It’s easy to set up a new consumer organization, but I’ve been pushing for a new consumerism, one which I hope this new coalition will formulate.

I came up with seven points for this new consumerism, really intended as challenges for Consumers Action. I’ve rearranged some of the points, combining others to come up with a discussion more appropriate for a column:

Independent, political

First, a new consumerism must be independent of commercial interests. So many of the product reviews we see today in print media and the Internet are actually “sponsored” through free trips, free samples. No wonder the reviews tend to be glowing, with “negative” criticism confined to the most superficial aspects, e.g., a limited range of colors to choose from.

Second, a new consumerism must be political, not in the sense of being tied to politicians but of engaging in advocacy, i.e., pressuring for change in public policies and laws. “Political” too means an awareness of “political economy”, i.e., the pricing structure of consumer products. Drugs in the Philippines are expensive partly because of the high cost of advertising and promotions, and partly because of the lack of true competition.

Third, the new consumerism must be multi-sectoral, which means linking up with other causes, from environmental protection to the rights of indigenous communities, and even to prevention of cruelty to animals. Consumer education would need to provide information on all these causes.

I worry too about the growing class-based gap among NGOs. Right now we tend to see organizations clumped around two extremes: those with mainly an elite membership from the upper, chattering classes that have never-ending symposia and talk show appearances. On the other end, you have huge mass-based organizations that cannot quite get into mass media even if they are able to mobilize for rallies and protest actions. A strong consumer organization will need to combine the two and walk the talk.

Fourth, the new consumerism must take up issues that affect the majority of Filipinos. One problem I find in many consumer organizations in other countries is that it takes on issues and products that are mainly for the upper classes. I still remember one of the first consumer magazines in the Philippines and a product review where they actually counted the number of sheets in several brand names of toilet paper. I have to say I was quite fascinated, and impressed by the work that was put in, but when you think about it now (including my awareness of the primacy of the “tabo” [water dipper] over toilet paper in the Philippines), perhaps that kind of review shouldn’t take too high a priority.

Access to medicines is a good start. While the problem affects all classes, its adverse effects are directly correlated with income, i.e., the poorer the family, the greater the negative impact of the lack of access. Besides medicines, there are many similar consumer issues, with their terrible effects on the poor, waiting to be addressed. I mentioned cell phones, which even the poor now have, and how consumers are constantly being cheated with dubious offers, bad service, and high costs of calls and texts.

Fifth, the new consumerism must deal with essentials, with what’s most needed. This is especially important with campaigns for pharmaceuticals. I would hope Consumers Action doesn’t campaign for cheaper glutathione (a skin whitener), but I wouldn’t mind seeing a campaign to challenge the claims made for the product. The World Health Organization has a list of essential medicines which governments should give priority to, “essential” being medicines that are needed for the most common and serious health problems.


Sixth, and this may sound ironic, the new consumerism must be “anti-consumerism.” Traditional consumerism emphasizes getting more for your dollar (or peso), but the new consumerism will include many instances where “less is better.” For example, cheaper medicines could mean people taking more unnecessary medicines unless the consumer groups campaign for the correct use of medicines. That might include not using medicines at all. Anti-cold remedies, for example, are not considered essential; they needlessly drain household budgets, even creating problems (for example, antihistamines in the cold product cause drowsiness), when all that might be needed is paracetamol for the fever, lots of fluids, and adequate rest.

In other countries, the push now is for sustainable lifestyles, with a bias for products that do the least harm to the environment. That could interface with other considerations. For example, a preference for local goods would be not only nationalistic but also eco-friendly. (The further away the source of a particular product, the more ecological costs involved because of transportation and the consumption of fuels.)

Finally, a new consumerism must be ready to come up with alternative economic strategies tackling the supply side. With medicines, for example, we badly need cooperative-style or community-managed pharmacies that will have access to “market intelligence,” meaning we should know where we can get low-cost, good-quality medicines. This might even mean looking overseas for suppliers.

For other products, the new consumerism must encourage fair trade, helping consumers to link up directly with producers, for example, farmers for rice and other agricultural products, and with small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs.

Alternative economic strategies must include tapping into the new information technology. This might turn out to be one of the most daunting challenges, competing with the high-budget advertising and promotions of large corporations and their brand of consumerism.

Consumers Action for Empowerment is at 35 Examiner St., West Triangle, Quezon City, with phone number +632 9298109.

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Email: mtan@inquirer.com.ph

By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:43:00 02/27/2009


The truth is in the label

Posted in Consumer by Erineus on February 24, 2009

By Atty. Gaby Concepcion

BEFORE I became a mother of four, I used to think that the labels on food products sounded like legalese—if not Greek—to me. It seemed much easier to read and understand the Comprehensive Tax Reform Act or the Tariff and Customs Code than comprehend what was written on the back of food labels.

Like me, well-meaning consumers may have been confused by the competing health claims of today’s food products. But as any wise consumer knows, we should not rely solely on these claims peddled by advertisements when picking goods off the shelf.

In choosing which brand of food products to buy for the family, how can the average consumer separate the hype from the truth? This is where the product’s food labels would come in handy.

Why I read the label

Food labels are required by law and are indispensable tools for a consumer in the exercise of their right to information and choice. These labels provide a tangible and efficient way to compare similar products of different brands, to see if all the important nutrients are present in their products. Nutrition information in food labels should be able to back up their touted health claims.

As a young, busy mother, I used to rely heavily on advertisements in making choices for my children—trusting in a milk brand’s claims that it was “the best” for my children’s growth and providing the necessary nutrients like protein (for muscles) and calcium (for bones) to nourish their rapidly growing bodies.

That was until my pediatrician warned me that my milk brand may actually contain too many calories, sugar and fat. A closer look at its food label—and comparing it with other milk brands—not only confirmed my pediatrician’s suspicions but also did reveal many interesting facts. It also taught me an invaluable lesson on how to be an empowered consumer by the mere expedient of reading and comparing food labels.

Calcium, DHA, and probiotics for kids

Aside from supporting your child’s physical growth, the nutrients in milk products should ideally be able to help aid their mental development. For the latter, pore over the food labels to see which ones have good DHA-fortification.

Playful as they are, kids’ still-fragile immune systems would also need special ingredients fortified in their food or milk like probiotics. The support for increased protection provided by probiotics like Lactobacillus Protectus would help keep their bodies strong against a variety of diseases and infection.

Calcium, iron and vitamin C for adults

When it comes to adult milk products, calcium is one of the most looked-for ingredients. Calcium is an important nutrient—especially for us adult women—for safeguarding bones against osteoporosis.

So if a product claims to help fight osteoporosis, be sure to look for the amount of calcium it contains.

Women who are going through heavy periods are especially vulnerable to anemia. This can be prevented by increasing their iron intake, which fortunately may also be provided by milk.

But before you go looking for the most iron-rich products, check out also their vitamin C content. Vitamin C helps our bodies absorb iron better, and has been shown to reduce the hot flushes commonly experienced by menopausal women.

Don’t get duped

Consumers shouldn’t rely solely on advertisements in acknowledging a product’s nutritional benefits. By reading and understanding the nutrition facts printed at the back of the package, you’ll know what nutrients it contains and how much of them you are getting, and which ones you are missing out on. Reading the product’s fine print and comparing it with others can help us choose the best value for our health and money would help a lot in making better, well-informed buying decisions.


4 pre-need firms near collapse

Posted in Financial Services, Pre-need Plans by Erineus on February 11, 2009

MANILA, Philippines–Four more pre-need firms are said to be on the verge of financial collapse, the head of a group of plan-holders said Tuesday.

One of them is Pryce Plans Inc., said Philip Piccio, president of the Parents-Enabling Parents Coalition (PEP).

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairperson Fe Barin refused to comment on Piccio’s information at the resumption of a Senate inquiry into troubled pre-need firms, but Jose Aquino, director of the SEC Nontraditional Securities and Instruments Department, confirmed it.

Pryce had declared funding problems in 2005 and has not been allowed by the SEC to sell new pre-need products. The SEC confirmed that the company was still in operation but only to service clients’ claims.

Piccio refused to name the three other troubled pre-need firms lest he be sued for libel, but he challenged the SEC to make the public disclosure to warn plan-holders and protect the public from buying plans from them.

“It is their duty to announce the situation of every company,” he said. “The problem here is it is the federation [of pre-need companies] that is announcing, not the regulator. That’s the problem. Let the regulators regulate, see the problem, not the federation. But the problem is the federation says ‘we’re OK.’”

Piccio said he got wind of the impending bankruptcy of the three unnamed pre-need firms from complaints of their plan-holders. He said the companies were still operating.

Barin said at the hearing: “If the question is about the pre-need companies that are about to collapse, no, we are not at liberty to say that. In the first place, we have to go back to our offices and take a look.”

Piccio criticized the SEC during a break at the three-hour hearing. “That’s the biggest question — why are they withholding the information?” he said.

He said the SEC did not want to disclose the information “because they don’t want to create panic. But if it will collapse, it will collapse.”

In December 2008, three pre-need firms affiliated with Legacy Group — Legacy Consolidated Plans Inc., Scholarship Plan Philippines Inc. and All Asia Plans Corp. — ceased operations without SEC approval.

A list obtained from the official SEC website showed 27 pre-need corporations with 2009 dealer’s license as of end-January. Last year, pre-need corporations sold more than 250,000 educational, life and pension plans totaling P15 billion.

Barin confirmed to the joint committee that Pryce was no longer selling plans. “If you don’t have a dealer’s license for this year, then you should not be selling,” she said.

Barin also confirmed that the SEC had received reports that Pryce was giving plan-holders cooking gas and medicines instead of cash to service claims, a scheme dubbed “exchange of benefits.” She said this was not illegal.

Piccio said people were going to the PEP for help. “We know what these companies are, and yet the [SEC] is not announcing it,” he said. With Inquirer Research; edited by INQUIRER.net

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:19:00 02/11/2009

‘Maling akala’ makes customers unhappy

Posted in Consumer by Erineus on February 11, 2009

I REMEMBER a copy boy in a former job who kept saying “maling akala” can get you killed. Indeed, assumptions and presumptions should be made with great care or they can cause a lot of trouble, if not exactly kill you.

Officials of my barangay in Manila realized the truth of this, much to their grief, over the weekend when our water service was interrupted starting Friday evening. The disruption caught most of the residents by surprise. Those who read newspapers regularly did not see any announcement about it.

The barangay council reportedly posted a notice at the barangay hall that our neighborhood would have no water until 12 noon Sunday. Considering that the hall is on an alley used by only about a fourth of the residents and was not in most people’s daily route, the notice was almost useless. A neighbor said the officials did not go out of their way to inform the rest of the barangay residents because they “assumed” people would have learned about the water service interruption on television.

As it turned out, most of the affected households did not see the TV announcement and were completely unprepared for the lack of water, which extended until Monday morning.

I’m sure those officials are now thinking of ways to make amends for the major booboo if they do not want the residents to pay them back come election time.

Information source

Leading food chain Jollibee also got a lesson recently about assumptions and presumptions.

Arnel de Leon went to a Jollibee branch for merienda and asked about the Jollitown Musical Show that his son wanted to see. The service crew member said a P150 food purchase entitled a parent/guardian to one ticket that would allow him/her to bring a child to the show. De Leon said he made sure he understood correctly that he and his son only needed one ticket and he did not have to make another purchase worth P150 to get a second ticket.

But when they tried to use his one ticket to the show, they were told only one of them could go in. For them to watch the show together, he had to walk some 300 meters to a booth to get another ticket by buying Jollibee products. When he told the people at the gate about the information provided him at the Jollibee store, he was informed he needed only one ticket if the child was a toddler still in a carrier, and not a 5-year-and-a-half boy like his.

De Leon said he found several parents making the same complaint at the booth. They apparently got the same information he did. De Leon said he had to buy the additional ticket since they were there already.

Arline Adeva, public relations manager of Jollibee Foods Corp., apologized to De Leon after getting his e-mail and checking with the branch in question. “We humbly acknowledge that the confusion was brought about by the wrong information given by one of our crew on the promo mechanics,” she said.

Adeva mentioned they spent a lot of time, effort and resources to convey the right message to their customers. “As we have clearly stated in all our print ads, collaterals and print announcements, every purchase of a Jollibee Kids Club Christmas meal worth P150 entitles the JKC member to one ticket to the show (which is good for one person). For more tickets (intended for parents or guardians), additional JKC Christmas meals must be purchased,” she said.

Hopefully, Jollibee has learned a valuable lesson from this experience. Other establishments can learn from it, too. They usually assume and presume that because they have invested on media placements and points of sale promotional materials, their customers are fully informed about whatever it is they want them to know. But, as the Jollibee case shows, all the effort may be undone by a service crew member who gives the wrong information.

For one thing, not everybody has access to the information sources they use. There will always be those who fall through the cracks. But more importantly, despite the many information sources available to people, they still consider a real person, who talks to them face to face, the most credible.

As I said, assumptions and presumptions have to be made with great care. Just because an establishment has provided the information through all media available does not mean its target audience is getting the story and getting it right. A clueless staff member, as the Jollibee experience showed, could leave a customer or several customers extremely unhappy.

Send letters to The Consumer, Lifestyle Section, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1098 Chino Roces Ave. cor. Mascardo and Yague Sts., 1204 Makati City; fax 8974793/94; or e-mail lbolido@inquirer.com.ph.

By Linda Bolido
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:09:00 02/10/2009

To get the right livestock meat

Posted in Agriculture, Consumer by Erineus on February 3, 2009

When buying livestock meat such as beef and pork, one may easily feel lost and overwhelmed because of the many different choices and glittery promotions around.

Monterey, recently honored as the “Top Retailer of the Year” by the Philippine Retailers Association and the Department of Trade and Industry, shares the following pointers to make sure that you get the right meat quality for your family.

Check the meat. High-quality lean meats are firm with fine-grained (not watery) fiber, so your beef or pork should have only few fat or white parts. The quality of some meat is also best seen in terms of color. White color is mainly influenced by the animal’s age, species, sex, diet and even exercise that the animal gets. Meats from older animals will also be darker in color since the myoglobin level increases with age. Another indicator is its aroma or smell. Non-fresh meat is easily determined by it stron, offensive smell. Oter tell-tale signs are mouth-feel, texture and similar other sensory attributes.

Check its source. Monterey currently has the country’s largest hog and cattle operation that is equipped with the latest technology in feed milling, breeding, livestock raising, slaughtering, meat retailing and processing. The meats undergo advanced blast-chilling process to neutralize bacterial growth. From breeding to meat storage, every step ensures the meats will reach the dinner table tender and disease-free.

Check its handlers. Monterey Meatshops offer a convenient place where shoppers can imagine and then decide on what tyupe of meat to serve the family. The place also has a modern meat fabrication equipment and display showcase. Each staff is trained in the Monterey Meat School so they know how to handle the meat products safely, and how to serve the customers professionally.

Source: http://www.mb.com.ph/AGRI20090203146965.html