POSTSCRIPT / October 28, 2014 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Resto has own version of senior citizens law?

ARISTOCRAT: The government should stop business establishments from insisting on their own interpretation of the Expanded Senior Citizens Act (RA 9994) that provides discounts and VAT exemptions to Filipinos aged 60 years or older.

For instance, while the law grants a 20-percent discount, Aristocrat restaurant (tel. no. 8940000) gives a senior citizen who orders food for home-delivery a flat discount of just P100 and only if his minimum order is P2,500.

While the discount is to be given only to the extent of what a senior can consume, Aristocrat forces him to order as much as P2,500 or way beyond his capacity to eat. And while the law prescribes a 20-percent discount, Aristocrat allows only a flat P100 discount, which is just 4 percent.

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DTI TO THE RESCUE: We called lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who has made it a mission to propagate awareness on the discount rights of seniors or the elderly under RA 9994. He said Aristocrat’s practice appears to be in violation of the law.

His advocacy stemmed from experience. As a senior, he once claimed a 20-percent discount at the Sofitel hotel, but was denied it. Management said he already had another discount under a promo – his availing of which the hotel said would amount to double discount.

The Department of Trade and Industry, where he elevated his complaint, opined that when the “promo” is not approved or not covered by a DTI permit, the item in question is also subject to the senior citizen’s 20-percent discount and VAT exemption.

If the goods or services are on approved promotional discount, the senior can avail himself of either the promotional discount or the SC discount, whichever is higher. That is according to the implementing rules and regulations that I have seen.

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OTHER IDs: Macalintal’s research had led to such revelations as that a senior may not be denied the discount just because he cannot show his SC card. Alternate IDs include a passport or a driver’s license which indicates the holder’s date of birth and bears his picture and signature.

Actually the issues boil down to a matter of good faith and respect for elders. At St. Luke’s Medical Center, for instance, one does not have to submit his SC card since the patient’s record already shows his date of birth.

For hospitalization and medical services, a patient can use his PhilHealth coverage on top of his 20-percent seniors’ discount, according to the IRR that I have seen. Also discounted are professional fees.

All discounts are given whether the payment is in cash or by credit card. By law, the prices of cash and credit card purchases must be the same.

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MORE DISCOUNTS: Drugstores such as Mercury and Watsons ask for a senior’s SC card, doctor’s prescription and purchase booklet before giving the 20-percent discount and VAT exemption.

At SM grocery stores, the cashier no longer asks for the purchase booklet but limits to a flat P65 the allowed 5-percent discount on prime commodities and basic necessities regardless of the total value. That expedites the transaction, but is it legal?

By ordinance, SM and other malls in Quezon City give seniors parking fee exemption for three hours. In Makati, seniors are gifted by City Hall with free movies and free birthday cakes.

Unknown to many, RA 9994 also gives 5-percent discounts on electric and water bills if the account is in the name of the senior who is part of the household. But the electric consumption must not be more than 100 kwh and the water not more than 30 cubic meters.

Unaware of their rights, many seniors travel without asking for their 20-percent discount on domestic air fares. The same discount is available on buses, jeepneys, taxis, utility vans, shuttle services and public railways.

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TELECOM DUEL: If the senior citizens law is hobbled by unclear rules and erratic enforcement, the same vagueness and vacillation is holding back infrastructure development.

As in elections where no candidate ever admits defeat (he was only cheated), in biddings for big-ticket projects, a winner is put on hold while the loser runs to his padrino in the Palace or shops for the best judge(s) that money can buy.

The CALAX (Cavite-Laguna Expressway project) is one example of public infrastructure on indefinite hold. In the telecoms sector, the Bayan/Globe-PLDT marathon dispute may be another.

Bayan Telecommunications (Bayan) and Globe were close to getting approval from the National Telecommunications Commission for the corporate rehabilitation of Bayan when its rival the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. ran to the Court of Appeals.

At the CA, the PLDT got the usual TRO (temporary restraining order) last Oct. 9, stopping the NTC from further proceeding with hearings on Bayan and Globe’s joint petition.

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REHAB PLAN: While the PLDT has the right to seek a TRO, only that giant benefits from the restraining order. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Bayan employees and customers are denied the opportunities for improved capabilities, products and services.

Furthermore, a crucial market seemingly controlled by a “dominant” player is prevented from exercising its right to freely choose which of three industry players to use.

The PLDT cites technicalities and procedural issues. Based on what I have read, Bayan and Globe are relying on a corporate rehabilitation plan that was approved by the Pasig Regional Trial Court Branch 158 as early as August 2013.

The Rehab Court allowed Globe to exercise its option to convert up to 69 percent of Bayan’s debt into its shares comprising of up to 56.6 percent of Bayan’s capital stock. As Bayan’s largest creditor, Globe said it intends to convert its debt holdings in Bayan into at least 54 percent of the latter’s outstanding shares.

Globe said that the transfer of majority ownership from Bayan to it will not result in an actual merger, as Bayan will continue to operate as an entity distinct from Globe. By its legal move, PLDT seems to be pitting one court versus another, unmindful of consumers’ higher interests.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 28, 2014)

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