Buying online safely

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

At the risk of appearing insensitive to the plight of those who have less in life and hardly have the means to put food on their table, I am admitting that during this two-month quarantine period, I can no longer count the number of times I clicked the “Buy” icon on several online shops.

These are mainly for essentials, though I acquired a number of non-essential ones too. I buy my fruits and vegetables from an online supplier, bought a defective portable UV disinfection box from Lazada, bought new pots and pans and cooking ingredients, purchased grocery items from Metromart, bought golf stuff from Amazon and local sources as if I will be playing golf in the near future, to name a few. Some are paid in cash but I prefer to use my debit and credit cards and have availed of PayPal’s services too to facilitate the transaction.

A recently released report from e-commerce delivery service provider J&T Express revealed that Southeast Asia’s e-commerce industry is the biggest factor for its growth as it grew from a value of $5.5 billion in 2015 to $38 billion in 2019. Now, the sector is on track to exceed $150 billion by 2025, it said.

This trend, it said, shows clear signs that people are moving online to buy essentials instead of going out to avoid getting infected.

But the same report cautioned that buying online for food, clothes, and essential items from people outside of e-commerce websites need to be approached with caution as a consumer can never be too careful.

The report revealed that global response to the current COVID-19 pandemic have led to a decline in the global economy, with the majority of businesses, big or small, that run through physical stores being the most affected.

However, it warned that despite the convenience of online shopping, scams, identity theft and other cybercrimes can still happen.

To safely shop online, the J&T report advised shoppers to check the legitimacy of the seller and to look at reviews about that person and their product posted by other customers.

It said that shoppers should also protect their data by ensuring that all of their personal information is protected since cyber criminals can use these information about email, contact number and financial details to gain access to bank accounts to steal money.

The report also noted that common sense warned against emails, texts, ads and other messages showing deals that seem too good to be true. These may contain malware that is dangerous for devices or can lead to personal information getting stolen.

It added that after ticking off all the boxes that show that one is in contact with a trustworthy and reliable online seller, one can never be sure that they actually get their package until it is in their possession. Buyers therefore should save receipts and confirmation letters to show authentication of purchase, and should make sure that they have contact with the seller and that person responds immediately.

And lastly, buyers should make sure that they, or the seller, have a trustworthy delivery courier.

Desperate times, desperate measures

A recent column by veteran journalist Tony Lopez written for another newspaper got me thinking a lot about government’s decision to put the National Capital Region under modified enhanced community quarantine instead of an enhanced community quarantine.

The shift from ECQ to MECQ sounded as good news initially.

More industries will be allowed to resume operations, but only half of the workers will be allowed to report for work physically. But since public transport is still not permitted, then private establishments will have to provide their employees with shuttle services.

But as pointed out in Tony’s report, since household expenditure is 68 percent of the economy, the economy will remain dead since consumers still cannot go out to buy.

Basically, people still have to stay at home which is understandable because the virus is still out there and you never know if you if are already in contact with one who is infected, especially since there are those who are asymptomatic.

But then, people are being punished, being prevented from working, just because we still have a weak COVID-19 response system. It is only now that we are hiring more contact tracers. And do we even have an effective way of tracing? Our testing capacity is still very low at 8,000 tests a day as of May 10, 10 days past the health department’s target date of April 30. The ideal 30,000 daily tests, according to the DOH, can only be achieved by end of May. Singapore currently does 8,000 tests a day but then, it only has 5.8 million people compared to our 108 million. Ours is far from being classified as mass testing which we desperately need.

Many of our local government units no longer have the resources to continue giving food or monetary assistance to their constituents. Our own national government is desperate for funds, especially since tax payments have been delayed and revenues from customs duties have dropped.

This is probably the reason why the government resorted to a very unpopular decision, to allow Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) to resume business, albeit with only 30 percent of the manpower allowed to report.

According to Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. chairman Andrea Domingo,  Pagcor has contributed P26.5 billion to the government’s pandemic response effort. Pagcor is also one of the biggest contributors to the national treasury and other mandated beneficiaries, one of which is the funding for the Universal Health Care Law.

Domingo said that from P73.72 million in 2016, revenues from POGO significantly increased to P5.73 billion in 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, POGOs already contributed P1.80 billion in regulatory fees alone. From 2016 to March 2020, Pagcor has collected P20.83 billion from POGOs in regulatory and other related fees.

In a statement, Domingo revealed that Pagcor management has allowed the partial reopening of POGOs, subject to certain requirements. Prior to resumption of operations, POGOs and their service providers are required to settle their tax liabilities, as certified by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, update payments of other fees and penalties due to Pagcor, remit their regulatory fees for April. They must also pass the readiness to implement safety protocols.

Pagcor will also impose safety protocols on POGOs to help ensure that their employees will be protected from COVID-19 infections, and that spread of the virus in their communities will be avoided.

Domingo emphasized that with its decision to resume POGO operations, the agency seeks to preserve the employment of 31,556 Filipinos who were directly hired by said industry, including  the ripples it will create in economic activity, such as the real estate industry which has earned approximately P25 billion on leaseholds and rentals alone, from POGOs.

Pagcor explained that POGOs, being classified as under information and communication technology-business process outsourcing (ICT-BPO), are allowed to operate under the existing community quarantine rule.

Equally important is Domingo’s assurance that Pagcor supports the police campaign against illegal POGOs.

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