THE prices of some basic consumer products have recently gone up following a scandalous increase in the retail prices of garlic and ginger. The price increases made the selective implementation and enforcement of the price tag law more obvious.
The price tag law requires merchants to place prices on every item. Many retailers, including big chain of supermarkets, have resorted to clever, if not dishonest way, of going around the law.
As early as 1946, the law on price tag on consumer products is clear. Republic Act No. 71 covers “all articles of commerce and trade offered for sale to the public at retail.” Retail items should be “publicly displayed with appropriate tags or labels to indicate the price of each article and said articles shall be sold uniformly and without discriminations at the stated price.”
The penalty is imprisonment of up to six months, or fine of P200 or less, or both upon the court’s discretion. That time P200 was a big amount.
The price tag law is in place to keep retailers from changing the prices of goods without warning. Most retailers prefer shelf tags to individual price stickers, or barcodes that consumers cannot read. Some retailers install price scanners in hideous corners of the store; others don’t.
Some items don’t have any price tag at all: no individual price tag, no shelf tag, no price list, and no barcode. Buyers end up getting shocked upon seeing the price of untagged item once it is punched in the counter.
In a big supermarket recently, I got two pieces of ginger that did not have any price tag. I only knew the price when I asked. It was P330 per kilo and the two pieces I got was worth P87. When I moved to the fruits section, I chanced upon delicious-looking persimmon. It also did not have any price tag. When I asked, I was told it was P800 plus per kilo. I asked again why it did not have any price tag; nor was it on the price list hanging on a post. The salesperson said the price keeps changing, that is why persimmon and a few other high-priced items like cherry did not have price tags.
Eight years after its passage on June 12, 1954, RA 1074 amended RA 71 to specify that price tags on lumber products should indicate the official name of the wood to enable buyers to distinguish one species of wood from others.
It also empowered the Secretary of Commerce and Industry to, upon the recommendation of the Director of Commerce, “exempt from time to time certain articles of commerce and trade or certain classes of establishments from the provisions of this Act.”
The definition of price tagging and the penalties were unchanged.
After 38 years in April 1992 —during the fifth year of the revived Congress—the same provisions were carried but reworded with modification under Articles 81 to 83 of RA 7394, or the Consumer Act of the Philippines.
The law defines price tag as “any device, written, printed, affixed or attached to a consumer product or displayed in a consumer repair or service.” The definition has been made even clearer.
Article 81 states: “It shall be unlawful to offer any consumer product for retail sale to the public without an appropriate price tag, label or marking publicly displayed to indicate the price of each article and said products shall not be sold at a price higher than that stated therein and without discrimination to all buyers: Provided, That lumber sold, displayed or offered for sale to the public shall be tagged or labelled by indicating thereon the price and the corresponding official name of the wood: Provided, further, That if consumer products for sale are too small or the nature of which makes it impractical to place a price tag thereon price list placed at the nearest point where the products are displayed indicating the retail price of the same may suffice.”
Article 82 prescribes the manner of placing price tags, thus: “Price tags, labels or markings must be written clearly, indicating the price of the consumer product per unit is pesos and centavos.”
Article 83 mandates the “concerned department,” which should be no other than the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), to “prescribe rules and regulations for the visible placement of price tags for specific consumer products and services…There shall be no erasures or alterations of any sort of price tags, labels or markings.”
The penalty for violators was raised to a fine of P200 to P5, 000, or imprisonment of one to six months. Second offense should mean revocation of business permit and license.
The price tag for consumer items like food, cosmetics, drug device or hazardous substance should include details like expiry date, nutritive value, among others. The penalty is higher at P500 to P20, 000 or jail term of three months to two years.
The DTI seems to have placed the enforcement of the price tag law in the backburner. Or probably it is too busy taking care of business.
As a consumer, it is quite disheartening to see DTI’s corporate identity, putting business ahead of consumers. In its website, DTI says what it does: We create an environment which enables business to grow, compete, and succeed, and to care for consumers so they get the best value for their money.
That is probably why DTI has been allowing business to put double price tags, shelf tags without individual tagging, and to just install price scanners to read bar codes.
Under the implementing rules of the law posted in the DTI website, shelf pricing is allowed only when the item for sale is too small for an individual price tag. Bar codes and price scanners are also allowed “in addition to price tags, labels or markings, or price lists” or “in combination with shelf pricing which when scanned will show the price.”
These variations from what the law and implementing rules provide constitute amendments to the Price Tag law and the Consumer Act that the DTI is not empowered to do. Doing so is usurping the power of Congress to legislate.
Why is DTI so helpless in enforcing the law for the sake of the consumers? While there is a complaint mechanism, it is too inconvenient for the consumer. It is DTI’s obligation to constantly check if laws under its jurisdiction are properly implemented.
In most appliance stores and similar establishments, the DTI has allowed the practice of retailers to circumvent the rule against double price tags: one for cash and another for card purchases.
Go to home appliance stores and you would see cash/direct charge price that is lower than the SRP or suggested retail price. Others use discounted price for cash, and zero-interest price for card purchases.
It is clear that the cash and credit card prices are different in many stores. Why is DTI not seeing it? Or is it just playing blind to the blatant violations of the Consumer Act and the Price Tag law?
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