POSTSCRIPT / December 18, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Charter-change report tosses ball to Congress

ACCOMMODATION: The unicameral Parliament proposed by the Consultative Commission looks feasible, as it appears to have worked around objections to the basic plan to replace the existing bicameral Congress.

Everybody in Congress should be happy. Senators who have been in danger of being shuffled out would be included in the interim Parliament that would function before the elections for regular members of Parliament (MPs).

But senators who want to stay on to the regular Parliament would have to run in the succeeding elections in their parliamentary districts. That is not a problem for those who enjoy local following.

Congressmen would also be absorbed into the interim Parliament. The 2007 elections marking the end of their three-year terms are to be cancelled and the terms of elective local and national officials ending in 2007 extended to 2010.

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DIPLOMA RULE: The regular Parliament, fusing the legislative and the executive functions of government, will have more than 330 members serving five-year terms — if the proposal is followed to have one parliamentary representative for every 250,000 citizens.

One qualification for MPs is for him/her to be at least a college graduate. This looks like a reaction to the spectacle of too many entertainers and school dropouts winning legislative seats.

And since the President and the Prime Minister are to come from Parliament, this diploma requirement shuts out college dropouts and movie stars who ride on their popularity to get elected to high public office.

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POWER-WIELDER: A provision expected to draw fire from the opposition is the automatic inclusion of President Gloria Arroyo in the Parliament and her being clothed with substantial powers as both chief of state and head of government.

She would also exercise supervision and direction over the interim Prime Minister even if he is to be elected by majority vote of the MPs. The Prime Minister would be a Cabinet member, one of several that the President is to draw from Parliament.

Part of the built-in bloc of the President in Parliament are shoo-in members of her Cabinet, at least one third of whom she would be allowed to name to the Parliament. In addition, she may appoint 30 MPs who are experienced and experts in their fields.

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DOUBLE PENALTY: The raging pre-Christmas shopping madness brings to the fore a year-round sales malpractice victimizing credit card holders.

When a customer pays with a credit card, the storeowner usually tacks a surcharge on the tag price of the item. Compared to a customer paying in cash, a buyer using a credit card is charged more for the same item.

The credit card holder is penalized twice: first by the store that collects a surcharge, and then by his bank that charges him a credit service fee.

This is unfair, extortionist and — according to lawyer Mel “Batas” Mauricio — a violation of law.

To get away with the violation, the merchant argues that the tag price on the item is a discounted price, and that the real price is the padded price being charged credit card holders.

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GOV’T ASLEEP: The merchants themselves know that explanation is dishonest. The real price is the tag price, and the higher price charged the credit card holder is one that has been padded.

If their claim is true, how come some stores and malls do not tack on a surcharge when a customer uses a credit card? Because they are not as greedy as the other blood-sucking businessmen.

What are credit card companies, the trade department and City Hall doing about this rampant malpractice? This season of reckless shopping is an opportune time to crack down on the profiteers.

Government agencies whose duty it is to enforce the laws on pricing and profiteering should publish immediately a stern, clear warning against this abuse. To instill fear of the law, they should haul off to jail some sample violators of the rule on the use of credit cards.

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TIGHTER LAWS: If I were a credit card company, I would not want merchants honoring my card to dishonor it by charging credit card holders more than they charge other customers.

A surcharge scares many buyers. This runs contrary to the credit card objective of tempting buyers by making purchases easier on the person and his pocket. The unit markup may not be huge, but the increased turnover volume and velocity will compensate for it.

While “Batas” Mauricio says some laws are already applicable, consumer-friendly legislators should push measures to declare clearly as illegal the adding of a surcharge to the tag price — among related malpractices — on credit card purchases.

The price tag law can be further refined to require merchants to indicate clearly on the packaging, tagging or advertising that the price shown is both for cash and credit card payments.

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CRUCIAL HUMP: The administration should look after consumer interests instead of always coddling business. Consumers spend faster and more readily in a regime of more liberal credit and fair pricing, thus stimulating commerce.

Accelerated consumer spending, specially at a time like this Yule season, which happens to be toward the end of the fiscal year, will manifest itself in a prosperous mood — never mind if it is false prosperity.

It may be late to say this, but in pursuit of the above idea, the administration should have taken aggressive steps to put more money in people’s hands, aside from the OFW remittances flooding in.

This Christmas is crucial to the Arroyo administration’s survival. If we have a dismal season, it could be downhill all the way after the December hump — especially because foreign currency remittances would slacken after the yearend.

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INVITATION: One week to Christmas, I cannot let this Sunday pass without printing this invitation to a birthday celebration:

“As you well know, we are getting closer to my birthday. Every year there is a celebration in my honor. Many people are busy shopping for gifts. The air is rife with radio announcements, TV commercials, and everyone everywhere is talking about my birthday getting closer.

“It is nice to know that at least once a year, some people still think of me. The celebration began many years ago. At first people understood and were thankful for all that I did for them, but in these times no one seems to know the reason for the celebration. Family and friends get together and have lots of fun, but they don’t know the meaning of it all.

“Like last year, there was a great feast in my honor. The dinner table was laden with delicious food, pastries, fruits, assorted nuts and chocolates. The decorations were exquisite and there were beautifully wrapped gifts. But, I wasn’t invited. I was the honoree, but they did not remember to invite me.

“When that great day came, I was left outside. They closed the door to my face although I wanted to be with them and share their table. Actually, that did not surprise me, because in the past few years they had also closed their doors to me.

“I quietly entered and stood in a corner. They were all drinking. Some of them were drunk and telling jokes and laughing. They were having a great time. Then this big fat bearded man dressed in red entered yelling “Ho-ho-ho!” He sat on the sofa and the children ran to him, saying: “Santa! Santa!” as if the party were in his honor.

“At midnight, everybody began to hug one another. I extended my arms waiting for someone to hug me, but no one did. Then they began to exchange gifts. They opened them with great expectation. I looked to see if, maybe, there was one for me. How would you feel if on your birthday, everybody shared gifts and you did not get one? I then understood that I was unwanted at that party, so I left quietly.

“Every year it gets worse. People only remember the merrymaking, the gifts, the parties and nobody remembers me. I would like that this Christmas you allow me to enter your life. I would like you to recognize that almost 2,000 years ago I came to this world to give my life for you, on the cross, to save you.

“On my birthday, I only want that you believe this with all your heart. I want to share something with you.

“As many didn’t invite me, I will have my own celebration, a grandiose party that no one has ever imagined. I am sending out invitations and there is one for you. I want to know if you wish to attend so I will make a reservation and write your name with golden letters in my great guest book. Only those on the guest list will be invited. Those who don’t answer the invitation will be left out.

“How do you respond to this invitation? By extending it to others whom you care for. See you soon… I love you! — Jesus”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 18, 2005)

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