SOME business establishments and medical institutions have found a way to skirt the law providing discounts to senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
Republic Act Nos. 9442 (Magna Carta for Disabled Persons) and 9994 (Granting Benefits and Privileges to Senior Citizens) are well-intended pieces of legislation. But these are sometimes abused, and the legitimate beneficiaries end up being taken advantage of.
These two laws extend a package of benefits to persons with disabilities and Filipino citizens who are 60 years old and above. The most commonly used of these benefits is the 20 percent discount on all purchase of medicines in drugstores, admission fees in theaters and concerts, and food and services in hotels and restaurants.
During the first few years of implementation, business establishments sowed confusion over the scope of coverage and computation of the discounts as an excuse for not honoring the privilege cards.
Now, 24 years after the original versions of the PWD and senior citizen laws came into effect some business establishments may have already perfected the art of beating around the implementation.
The senior citizen law originated from RA 7432 in 1992, which was amended by RA 9257 in 2004 and later by RA 9994 that expanded its coverage.
The law on PWDs originated from RA 7277, also enacted in 1992, and amended in 2007 by RA 9442.
I learned about a few incidents of abuse on the PWD law when I accompanied my cancer-stricken sister to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City for a computerized tomography (CT) scan a few nights ago.
A PWD card-bearing patient wondered aloud why the rate she paid was the same as the regular rate for a medical procedure she was about to undergo. When she inquired, she was told that the rate given her before presenting her PWD card was the promo rate, which was the same as the discounted rate for PWD patients.
She was given the same excuse, she said, when she had dinner with her family a few days earlier at a Saisaki-Sambokojin restaurant:
The PWD card does not apply to promo rates.
I immediately sensed a pattern from those incidents. This was the same tactic business establishments used in skirting the Consumer Act or RA 7394 that requires public display of price tags or labels on products for sale.
Article 82 of the law says, “Price tags, labels or markings must be written clearly, indicating the price of the consumer product per unit in pesos and centavos.” Even big supermarkets violate this on selected products. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) deviated from the intent of the law by allowing shelf, not individual or per item, pricing.
The law also prohibited the imposition of surcharges on purchases using credit cards. Business establishments used to charge a 5 to 10 percent surcharge on credit card purchases. They don’t do this anymore. But they have conveniently skirted the prohibition by adopting a Suggested Retail Price (SRP) and discounted cash price. The SRP, in effect, is in lieu of the credit card price while the discounted cash price is the regular price, but business establishments make it appear that you get a discount when you pay in cash.
Of course, as a convenient substitute for cash or check a credit card gives consumers the advantage of purchasing goods and services without immediately settling the transaction in cash.
But unscrupulous business establishments have found a way of taking advantage of credit card holders.
This is a trick that some merchants use on consumers by giving in-store promos of discounts for cash basis to discourage credit card transactions.
The DTI is probably waiting for complaints before acting on specific violations or deviations from the intent of the law. But a consumer would rather pay the higher credit card price than the discounted cash price instead of going through the hassles of filing out a complaint, attending hearings, and following it up without assurance that the erring establishment would be penalized.
Penalties for violations are high: fines of as much as P 300,000, depending on the gravity, and/or revocation of their business permit and license.
RA 7394 has rendered surcharges illegal. The intent of the price tag policy is to indicate the actual price tag as the only cost that you must pay, no more, no less. The double-pricing tactic, particularly on appliances, gadgets, and furniture, is an illicit deviation from the good intentions of the law.
It is similarly illicit to quote “promo rates” in restaurants and medical services for customers and patients using PWDs. In effect, they deny PWDs the discount they are entitled to. This is a deceptive practice.
The discounts are not completely charged to business establishments. They can claim these in the form of tax discounts from government.
Perhaps the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA) and the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) should see to it that the rightful beneficiaries of the laws they are mandated to oversee get the privilege they are entitled to and deserve.
These offices must also see to it that the privilege is not taken advantage of by ineligible cardholders or those who were able to secure PWD and senior citizen cards even if they do not have disabilities or have not yet reached 60 years old.
With the elections drawing near, they should be on the lookout for incumbent local executives who may be giving away PWD and senior citizen cards as part of their campaign dole outs.