Wake Up, Philippines!

Restoring trust in the majesty of law

Posted in Judiciary, Laws by Erineus on February 24, 2009

Amazing! The Puno Court did it again. Access to justice by our marginalized sectors has been institutionalized in the judicial branch through the Rule on Mandatory Legal Aid Service. The Supreme Court now requires “practicing lawyers” of the country to render 60 hours of free legal aid yearly, effective July 1. Sharing five hours of service a month for the poor and the underprivileged also earns for the members of the Bar credit units under the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Program.

The mandatory pro bono legal service program is the latest in a series of unprecedented actions by the highest court of the land that truly “bridge gaps and remove roadblocks,” as the Supreme Court’s “Access to Justice” poster points out. It is a response to a major recommendation from the participants of the “Increasing Access to Justice” forum the Supreme Court spearheaded on June 30 to July 2, 2008, simultaneously in Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro.

I am sure our fisherfolk, farmers, pensioners, children, women and men who suffer from injustices due to poverty and lack of knowledge of the law are ecstatic about this development. The rule of law will hopefully be reinvigorated with this program, with more lawyers serving the downtrodden and in public interest advocacy for the environment and women’s and children’s issues.

Because the pace of delivering justice is slow, there is the consequent erosion of trust in the justice system. It is unfortunate that our Supreme Court perennially receives the lowest share of the national budget compared to the executive and legislative branches. How can it operate effectively with meager financial resources? It has been saddled with clogged dockets and enormous challenges in attracting more lawyers to join the judiciary. There are many vacant courts nationwide.

This lack of resources gave rise to legally authorizing local government units to provide for the allowances of the judges. But crafty politicians have unfortunately used this as a tool to pressure judges to “toe the line – or else…” This prevailing arrangement is a big blow to the independence of the judiciary and has to be reevaluated. Giving the Supreme Court a bigger share in the budgetary appropriations is a better solution and detaches it completely from the dirty world of politics.

It is a tribute to the collective vision of the justices that, despite the constraints, the Supreme Court is creative in harnessing its expanded power of judicial review and rule-making power to change mindsets and transform society, not just the lawyers. It has evolved to become a key decision maker on human rights, social justice and in protecting the environment, which, in Tony Oposa’s words, translate to restoring “ecological sanity.”

The rules on the writ of amparo, writ of habeas data, establishment of the green courts and small claims courts, the Justice on Wheels program, the annual forum on prevailing social issues that bring together the stakeholders of society and now the Rule on the Mandatory Legal Aid Service undeniably restore the people’s trust in the majesty of the Law.

Amid rampant corruption and anomalies, earning the shameful label as the most corrupt country in South East Asia, the Philippines is on the alarm list of the most politically unstable nations of the world, ranking No. 59 (of 177 countries) in the 2008 Failed States Index. Culling from the data of the Worldwide Governance Indicators of the World Bank (1996-2007), we are in the 10th to 25th percentile in the bottom list in political stability and in the control of corruption.

Like firemen duty-bound to stop a “conflagration,” who else but the lawyers, as stewards of the law and as officers of the court, should lead in restoring the rule of law, exact accountability from public officials and colleagues in the wrong side of the fence, and narrow the justice gap – at this crucial times?

Hopefully, the members of the Bar will voice out their ideas and be part of the process in the formulation and adoption of the implementing regulations of the program.

On February 28, lawyers will choose the officers and members of the board of directors of their respective IBP chapters. The elections for Cebu and Cebu City Chapter officers will be from 8 a.m. to noon at the lobby of the Justice Hall. We hope for a wider participation from the lawyers in this election.

By Gloria Ramos
Cebu Daily News
First Posted 14:11:00 02/23/2009


Of senior citizens, discounts, credit cards

Posted in Consumer, Laws, Senior Citizens, Social Issues/Concerns, Social Reform by Erineus on February 2, 2009

MANILA, Philippines-FIRST OF ALL, A NUMBER OF FRIENDS HAVE ASKED ME why I was moved from Sunday to Monday, and from a horizontal to a vertical layout. My response: A case of civilian supremacy over the military.

* * *

For many years, since my medicine needs rose because of various ailments often connected with the aging process, I had tried to use my credit card for medical purchases which now run into four-digit figures on a weekly basis. Each time I would present my credit card at the Mercury Drug outlet in our neighborhood, the clerk would inform me that the 20-percent senior citizens’ discount was available only for cash payments. It was futile to argue with the clerk or even with the branch manager, as they would invoke company rules which they had to follow. Not being very knowledgeable with regard to the provisions of the Senior Citizens’ Law, and since the medicines were needed on a regular basis, we accepted their ruling although with much reluctance. Many restaurants and airlines were honoring the senior citizens’ discount even with the use of a credit card, and yet this distribution giant in such a vital sector of the economy appeared to be able to determine by itself what the senior citizen was entitled to in terms of discounts.

Last January, Carlos Manalastas of Sampaloc, Manila decided to do something about this problem. He wrote the Inquirer, asking if the Mercury Drug interpretation of RA 9257 known as the Expanded Senior Citizens’ Act, authored by then Sen. Noli de Castro and Rep. Eduardo Zialcita, was correct.

In reply, Vice President De Castro wrote: “I would like to assure Mr. Manalastas that senior citizens can avail themselves of the 20-percent discount regardless of the manner of payment for the purchase of medicines.”

As I mentioned in an earlier column, armed with a copy of the Vice President’s letter, I proceeded to the Kamuning branch of Mercury Drug and presented my requirements accompanied by the prescriptions, purchase slip booklet and my senior citizen’s ID card. After being informed of the total cost, I presented my credit card. As usual, the clerk politely informed me that the 20-percent senior citizen’s discount was only available for cash payments. After I showed him a copy of Vice President De Castro’s letter, he disappeared for a few minutes. The assistant branch manager then showed up, informing me that the matter had to be referred back to the home office.

When I returned home, I spoke to Vice President De Castro, relating to him my experience. He immediately took steps to address the problem by sending a letter to the president of Mercury Drug Inc., Ms Vivian Q. Ascona. He informed the company that “upon presentation of the senior citizen’s identification, there is no other condition imposed for the grant of the 20-percent discount . . . . The law does not distinguish whether or not the purchase is on cash basis or through credit card.”

In a lengthy reply, Ms Ascona raised the problem Mercury Drug was having with the BIR which “treated the discount as a deduction from gross income instead of as a tax credit.” She also said, “we are selling at a loss every time we sell to a senior citizen and each sale is draining our capital. Accepting credit cards in payment for such sales would further compound our financial sufferings.”

In a meeting chaired by Vice President De Castro and attended by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, Finance Secretary Gary Teves and Ms Ascona, it was decided that the problems with the BIR were a separate matter and would be addressed separately. The benefits granted to senior citizens should not be held hostage to this issue.

Last Tuesday, Jessie Andres, chief of staff of Vice President De Castro, informed me that Mercury Drug had agreed to honor the 20-percent senior citizens’ discount whether payment was in cash or credit card. The company would be sending out instructions to this effect to its different branches nationwide.

Two days ago, after allowing for some time to get the new arrangements in play, I decided to purchase my usual supply of medicines. To my great relief, my credit card was accepted with the 20-percent discount being granted—no hesitation, no questions asked.

Let us thank Carlos Manalastas for raising the issue last January, something we should have done even earlier.

Most of all, we thank Vice President De Castro for his prompt response, truly in the Ramon Magsaysay tradition of attending to the needs of our people who are up against some of the industry giants.

* * *

Rodrigo M. Profeta, barangay chair of Barangay 603 Manila, wrote to complain about a McDonald’s food branch located at the SM Centerpoint. Apparently, this branch requires senior citizens to present not only a senior citizen ID card but also a BIR TIN card before granting them the 20-percent discount.

C’mon, George, say it isn’t so! It is absurd to require a BIR TIN card for a taste of your delicious hamburgers.

* * *

Which brings me to another problem on retail transactions using credit cards, debit cards and automated teller machine cards.

Recently, Trade Secretary Peter Favila noted that a number of retailers have been charging differently on specific items, depending on the mode of payment. “Purchases using credit cards are priced higher than those paid with cash,” he said.

Favila explained that under Department Administrative Order No. 10, “When the consumer opts to pay either through cash or card, he or she should pay only what is stated on the price tag. There should only be a single price tag indicating the cost of each item. The price tag should be inclusive of the value-added tax for items covered by VAT. It is unlawful to charge an additional tax over the price tag,” Favila said.

It is time for consumers to be aware of these rules and regulations so as to protect themselves from unfair trade practices. It has been said that vigilance is the price we pay for freedom. It is also the price one pays for fair and lawful treatment from greedy business establishments.

By Ramon J. Farolan
First Posted 00:12am (Mla time) 03/05/2007

Senior citizen perks a dream for many

Posted in Laws, Senior Citizens by Erineus on February 2, 2009

LAST Thursday was a celebration of life and also of death in the family. It was the 12th anniversary of my triple bypass operation at St. Luke’s Medical Center, and each time I swing a golf club, I am reminded that the fine work of surgery done by my cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Estanislao “Stan” de Castro, has allowed me to keep going through the last 12 years with relative strength and comfort. Doctors Greg Rogelio, Butch Recto and Helen Ong are also on my mind for their care and concern during the early phase of my ailment.

It was also the 30th death anniversary of my father, Modesto Farolan, and I thank Dr. Greg Patacsil for the care and attention extended to him during critical times of his life. Dad would have been 109 this year. A self-made man with just a high school diploma to his name, he carved out several careers in journalism and government service through sheer determination, hard work and discipline. In the tough world of newspaper work, he rose from cub reporter to become publisher and editor in chief of the Philippines Herald, one of the major dailies of his time. Wading into uncharted waters, he organized the Philippine Tourist and Travel Association (PTTA) and became the nation’s first commissioner of tourism under President Ramon Magsaysay. His work in this industry earned him the title “Father of Philippine Tourism.” A string of diplomatic assignments as ambassador to South Vietnam, Switzerland and later Indonesia would round out his career in government.

* * *

At the age of 88 going on 89, former Senate President Jovito Salonga continues to fight for our rights as he has done through a lifetime of service to country.

Last December, he went to a Jollibee eatery to test the observance or lack of it of the Senior Citizen law. To his disappointment, the outlet refused to honor his credit card, insisting that he pay in cash. They probably thought an old man would not make too much fuss over the matter, even as they must have known with whom they were dealing. His credit card had his name on it.

Well, that was a big mistake. Right after the incident, Senator Salonga informed Vice President Noli de Castro of his experience, citing my earlier encounter on the same issue with Mercury Drug. He added that “despite my advanced age, I am prepared to follow up this matter so they will follow the rule of law instead of the rule of convenience.” The Vice President then wrote the president of Jollibee, Mr. Ernesto Tanmantiong, “enjoining them to comply with the law allowing the Senior Citizen discount for both cash and credit card purchases.”

Apparently as a result, a meeting was held at the office of Senator Salonga with Jollibee personnel in attendance. Briefly, the explanation given by Ms Meldyjane Pizana, Jollibee Acacia Lane branch manager, for the non-acceptance of his credit card was “kasi, wala po kaming credit card facility machine.” Senator Salonga found it difficult to accept that “the most popular fast-food restaurant in the whole country” didn’t have such a machine. Ms Pizana replied that their application for the machine was being processed, but could not specify an actual operational date. She apologized for the inconvenience, adding that once they had the machine, credit cards would be accepted.

Somehow I share Senator’s Salonga’s skepticism about Jollibee—a food giant in this country—not having a credit card machine. On the other hand, it is possible that a newly opened branch may be in such a predicament.

Jollibee could have easily avoided this incident if its personnel immediately informed Senator Salonga about the absence of the credit card facility—a case of faulty communication skills. We continue to receive complaints about business establishments not accepting credit cards for senior citizen discounts. We must always be prepared to call attention to these violations of the law if we are to eliminate the “rule of convenience” as practiced by some firms.

* * *

Another former senator, Eddie U. Ilarde, at 75 the oldest living radio-TV personality in the country today, and president of Golden Eagles Society International, sent me some notes on his dream of putting up a Philippine counterpart to the Senior Center in Frisco, Texas that I mentioned in an earlier column.

The Center would be called Golden Eagles Arcadia, after a region in ancient Greece offering rural simplicity and tranquility. It is certainly an ambitious project indicative of Ilarde’s concern for the welfare and dignity of the elderly in our country. His goal is for Arcadia to be a health and spiritual retreat for our senior citizens. Eddie explains that “heaven smiles upon those who care for and service the sick and the elderly.”

Incidentally, Eddie’s “Book of Seniors,” a compilation of jokes, medical advice and words of wisdom concerning senior citizens, makes for interesting reading for people of all ages. One striking bit of information comes from Ann Pawliczko of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF). She says, “during the next two generations, the number of the world’s people older than 60 will quadruple, rising from 606 million now to 2 billion in 2050 … They will outnumber children for the first time in human history. More and more, it is not the children who are our future, it is the seniors … the most significant population shift in history.”

Last Saturday, Ilarde received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) for his “long service in media as a disciple of truth in information.”

* * *

One of the more poignant letters that I have received from senior citizens comes from Bienvenido M. Quizon of Barangay San Jose in Lipa City. It highlights the widening gap between the haves and have-nots in our society. For many of our elders, the perks of senior citizenship remain just a dream.

Quizon writes: “There are more poor senior citizens than the ‘have’ ones. Poor senior citizens do not patronize restaurants, KFC and other fast-food chains. We make do with ‘turo-turo’ or ‘karihan.’ Concerts and seeing movies are alien to us. I for one have yet to enter a hotel. We are regular tricycle riders. Buses, LRT, ships and airplanes are for the moneyed senior citizens. We are clients of faith healers and ‘arbularios.’ Even at discounted prices, drugs are not within our reach. How much more enjoying the comforts of St. Luke’s and other well-known, expensive medical centers.”

Until we can narrow the gap between rich and poor in the country, many of our laws do not effectively serve the interests of the vast majority of our people.

By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:19:00 02/02/2009

SC: Ban on ‘short time’ unconstitutional

Posted in Constitution, Constitutional Rights, Hotel, Judiciary, Jurisprudence, Laws, Legislation, LGUs by Erineus on February 1, 2009

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional a Manila ordinance banning “short time” admissions in motels, saying it violates the rights not only of motel owners but also of married couples.

The high court decision, penned by Associate Justice Dante Tinga, also overturned a Court of Appeals ruling that voided the original Manila regional trial court verdict that City Ordinance 7774 violated constitutional guarantees on personal liberty.

The appellate court had ruled that the ordinance was a valid exercise of the local government’s police powers.

In its ruling, the high court said even if the Manila City government’s claims that motels had become dens of “prostitution, adultery and fornication” were true, banning short time admissions would curtail “legitimate sexual behavior among consenting married or consenting single adults, which is constitutionality protected.”

It also said other legitimate activities, such as those of families seeking temporary comfort in case of power outages, travelers needing a place to wash up or rest in transit, or other persons or groups who merely need private space, would be curtailed.

The Supreme Court ruled on a case originally filed by the Malate Tourist and Development Corporation (MTDC), owner and operator of the Victoria Court chain, with the Manila regional trial court soon after the Manila ordinance was enacted in 1992.

The complainant was later joined by other motel operators White Light Corporation, Titanium Corporation and Sta. Mesa Tourist and Development Corporation (STDC).

By Tetch Torres
First Posted 15:54:00 01/29/2009