POSTSCRIPT / December 25, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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On whose side is DTI? Credit card users, unite!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!: In your noche buena, party, reunion, or whatever celebration or merrymaking you had last night, was there any mention of Jesus, whose birthday the entire world is supposed to be celebrating today?

Did it cross your mind that Jesus — the honoree — once told us that wherever two or three are gathered in His name He would be in the midst of them? Another time, remember that night in Gethsemane, as He prepared to make the supreme sacrifice He asked if we could not watch even just one hour with Him.

Did you feel His presence or mention Him to anybody last night? In the morning after, today, are you still groggy or too busy to think of Him — or greet Him on His birthday?

Whatever, it is not too late to catch up and dwell on the real meaning of Christmas. Reflect on that and you will know what to do.

Reader Consuelo P. Ortiz has a suggestion: On Christmas Day, light a small candle for at least one minute for His birthday, and pass the suggestion to friends. “We have candles lit on our birthday cakes,” she notes, “why not for Him?”

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CREDIT CARD BLUES: This one may seem somewhat late for the hordes of shoppers caught (trapped?) in the madness of holiday shopping who had used credit cards to buy Christmas gifts and other items at an overprice.

If you still have the packaging and receipts indicating that you were slapped a surcharge above the price on the tag or label on the product when you used a credit card, hold on to them if you want to press a complaint.

Reacting to my POSTSCRIPT of Dec. 18 wherein I said that many “merchants are unfair to credit cardholders” and then asked what government agencies are doing about it, Director Victorio Mario A. Dimagiba of the DTI’s Bureau of Trade Regulation and Consumer Protection, told me in a letter:

“About three months ago, the DTI in a meeting with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Credit Card Association of the Philippines (CCAP), it was discussed that merchants are expected to follow the price indicated in the price tag. CCAP members who are the merchant banks may help in addressing this problem through a dialogue with the merchants regarding discontinuing the practice of adding a surcharge at the price tag. If the practice continues, the merchant may be disaffiliated by a merchant bank and no longer be permitted to accept credit cards for accepting payments.”

I understand this to mean that any vendor caught adding a surcharge to the tagged price may be delisted by the merchant bank and no longer allowed to accept credit card payments.

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THE LAW SAYS…: But Dimagiba confused me when he said in the same letter: “A storeowner may impose a surcharge on the prices of items he offers for sale in case a customer pays through the use of a credit card. Generally, he may give discounts to buyers paying in cash than to customers paying through the use of credit card. Our laws do not prohibit this practice.”

What is Dimagiba talking about when no less than RA 7394, the Consumer Act of the Philippines, says: “ARTICLE 81. Price Tag Requirement — 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: xxx 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.” ?

The law is clear enough, even for non-lawyers like me, especially if we interpret it — as we should — in favor of consumers whom the RA 7394 purports to protect.

Anyway, those who want clarification or who want to press the issue — like filing a complaint — or who find themselves in a heated argument with a merchant, may call the DTI hotline 751-3330 that is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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NO SOLI: While we are at it, we offer information to readers complaining about the “no return-no exchange” policy of many stores, including malls.

Under Department Administrative Order No. 2, s. 1993, the Implementing Rules and Regulation of RA 7394, specifically Rule II, Section 7, provide that “No Return, No Exchange” or words to such effect shall not be written into the contract of sale, receipt in a sales transaction, in any documents evidencing such sale or anywhere in a store or business establishment.”

DAO No. 2, also says that “consumers are entitled to either an exchange or refund in case of hidden defects, shoddy goods or imperfect service.” However, it is not an excuse for a consumer to return goods because of a change of mind or mistake due to the fault of the consumer himself.

But the DTI and/or other agencies assigned to enforce the law should not wait for complaints to mount.

During heavy shopping days, they should send agents to pose as customers and catch merchants violating the law, particularly the rules on the illegal collecting of a surcharge from credit card users, and vendors disregarding the DTI order on “no return-no exchange” policies of merchants.

That is, if the government cares at all.

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MERCHANTS’ SIDE: Reader Jeoffrey Tan who sounds like a merchant justifies the surcharge when a credit card is used. He said in an email (edited): “Credit card companies get from us 4-5 percent and a .5 percent withholding tax every time you use your credit card.

“Whatever amount we charge the cardholders, the card company pays us less 4-5 percent and .5 percent withholding tax. The mall owner and stores at the mall usually incorporate the deductibles to the tag price, so even if the credit card company deducts 4-5 and .5-percent withholding tax, they can absorb it.

“However other merchants who have a profit of only 1-2 percent have no choice but to pass the deductible to the cardholders, because the bank deducts it from them. Storeowners at Divisoria mall and 168 shopping center don’t accept credit cards, because their price is always discounted and wholesale. The margin is very small, thus cash payment is the only option.

“Big establishments prefer cash only for sale items, again because the margin is very small and use of credit card is not advisable. Merchants have to get the net price, which they cannot get from the card company. So now you know who is really the blood sucker.”

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USURIOUS RATES: But reader Serge Laumond has another, a dim, view of credit card companies. He notes that after the victim is lured to sign on by a waiver of membership fee, he is subject to a renewal fee of P1,000 to P1,500 per card and other exorbitant service fees.

By allowing unsuspecting cardholders to pay only a small portion of the full amount due every month, credit card companies are able to simulate advances or loans (representing the balance) that is charged interest until fully settled.

He said this interest charge on the outstanding balance varies from 3.25 to 3.5 percent per month. At 36 to 42 percent per annum, he said, this is among the most expensive credit terms except for that of “loan sharks” and the infamous “5/6.”

The Central Bank is aware of this usurious practice, Laumond complains, yet the CB seems to be not interested.

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ATM RIPOFF: Talking of banks, who regulates their ATM (automatic teller machine) operations? asks reader Jojo Labayen of Marikina who recalls his experience during the holidays withdrawing from a security bank ATM in that city:

“The line was long because each customer was surprised (hence, took a longer time to transact) at the new policy. Instead of the previous maximum withdrawable amount of P4,000 (as indicated on the screen), every withdrawal transaction had been limited to P2,000. This meant that if you withdraw P4,000, you pay two transaction charges instead of one.

“Only the poor guard was left to explain to irate customers as there was no sign or notice posted.

“The man next to me in line said that another ATM where he withdrew the previous day also had the same policy. ‘Ginugulangan tayo. Sinasamantala dahil Pasko, may pera ang tao kaya nakakapagpasensiya,’ he said.

“Considering the increase in ATM withdrawals during the holidays, one can imagine how much the banks made. Are the authorities, the Central Bank included, asleep?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 25, 2005)

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