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.
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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.
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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.
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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