Rules on online discounts for PWDs, seniors still pending months after request
This undated file photo shows senior citizens wearing face masks.
The STAR/Walter Bollozos, file

Rules on online discounts for PWDs, seniors still pending months after request

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - May 31, 2021 - 4:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — Discounts for persons with disabilities and senior citizens in online commerce may soon be added to the cart, the Department of Social Welfare and Development confirmed. 

In a letter addressed to consumer advocacy group Laban Konsyumer, Inc., Social Welfare Undersecretary Aimee Torrefranca-Neri said that the DSWD, together with the Department of Trade and Industry, have "already formulated the appropriate guidelines" for discounts on online purchases for the two sectors. 

DTI Undersecretary for Consumer Protection Ruth Castelo also confirmed this in a text message to Philstar.com but said the departments were "still working on it."

DSWD spokesperson Irene Dumlao also said in a text message that consultation with other national government agencies was ongoing, months after the original calls were made. 

They did not say when the guidelines are expected to be released.

"Said guidelines [have] been subjected for consultation with other appropriate government agencies or office for its proper efficacy," the DSWD's letter dated May 20, a copy of which was acquired by Philstar.com, said. 

"The DSWD fully supports the concern...in the observation of the statutory privileges granted to Senior Citizens and Person with Disability when making online transactions or purchases, given the restrictions in the mobility of the said sectors due to their high risk of infection to the coronavirus." 

Photo shows the letter from the DSWD addressed to consumer group Laban Konsyumer, Inc. after the latter called for guidelines for PWDs and senior citizens to avail of discounts in online purchases. The department says it "already formulated" the guidelines on the matter.

'Seniors feel restricted, depleted'

The group earlier filed a complaint against the two departments at the Anti-Red Tape Authority citing their "inaction and failure to comply" with earlier commitments to act on their earlier request. 

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, consumers have been forced largely indoors and reliant on online shopping.

Calls for implementing guidelines resounded as early as October 2020, when LKI wrote the DSWD asking for guidelines allowing the two sectors to avail of their discounts and benefits in e-commerce purchases. 

In March, House Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera also filed a resolution citing mounting complaints from senior citizens who are unable to avail of their discount privileges on applications like Grab and FoodPanda and arguing that the privilege should apply to such transactions. 

PWDs and seniors are among the poorest in the Philippines. Under the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 and the Magna Carta for Persons with Disabilities, both sectors are entitled to 20% discounts on essential goods and are exempted from paying the 12% value-added tax. 

“Most senior citizens and persons with disabilities above 65 years old purchase food items and other goods online and are not able to claim the discounts granted by law. In most cases, the merchants do not know what and how to grant the discounts," Dimagiba, a lawyer, wrote in the original October 2020 letter addressed to the DSWD. 

"Right now it is important that the spirit of these initiatives is consistent and is carried out for all parties, in order to ease their burden during this tough year, where senior citizens may often feel restricted, depleted, and even powerless," he added. 

Philstar.com sought PWD Philippines for comment. This story will be updated with their response. 

Consumer group: We'll give them benefit of the doubt

No update on the proposed policy has been given since then. 

Sought for comment, LKI president Victor Dimagiba in a text message Monday opted to give the agencies the "benefit of the doubt."

"At best the latest communication is that some sort of guidelines have been prepared and that interagency consultation is ongoing," he told Philstar.com.

"However, our initial letter in the subject matter was dated October 2020. Thus 3 quarters have elapsed and still, senior citizens are deprived of their statutory privileges."

He added that the ARTA has not yet responded to the complaint. 

Philstar.com reached out to ARTA through its public information office but has yet to receive a response. 

READ: Complaint filed vs DSWD, DTI over 'inaction' on online privilege guidelines for PWD, seniors

Grab Philippines: 'We're only the delivery platform' 

Reacting to the House resolution, the consumer group said that in its monitoring, Grab Food and Pabili were among the most "notorious violators."

"Grab Pabili is a double whammy. Food prices are higher than the price tag of the food," he said. 

"In my experience, there are merchants that extend the discount through phone orders but more wildcard instances. For online almost none," he also said. 

In a phone call with Philstar.com in March, Grab Philippines public relations manager Arvi Lopez said the company had not received any queries or communication from DTI or DSWD. 

He said that the company had not received any complaints, saying that the company would "work closely with our merchant-partners and the government" to find a way to implement the discount. 

"Nothing confirmed yet. What was flagged to us really is just the instance coming from representative Herrera...It's important for the public to understand that we are the delivery platform, and so essentially, we're not the restaurant," he said. 

He was careful to point out that the statement was "more aimed to senior citizen discounts" in response to Herrera's House resolution. 

"It's usually the restaurants that give discounts to the PWD. We are the delivery platform that they work with...we need to work with our merchant partners and the government on how to operationalize that."

RELATED: Add to cart: Discounts for seniors, PWDs in online shops

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

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