After pressure from solons, coffee chain apologizes for limiting senior citizen and PWD discounts

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — The company that owns the rights to operate Starbucks in the Philippines has apologized for their recently viral signage limiting the 20% discount for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) to only one food item and one drink per visit.

This comes after a representative of Starbucks Philippines was summoned to an inquiry by the House of Representatives on Wednesday regarding the application of government-mandated discounts for senior citizens and PWDs. 

House Speaker Martin Romualdez said in a statement that he ordered the inquiry after his office received complaints about some establishments’ failure to comply with the law, including Starbucks.

The House ways and means committee hearing also surfaced complaints that some establishments reportedly refuse to honor the 20% discount for various reasons, including the availability of ongoing promos. Some local governments also reportedly require senior citizens to register as voters before they can avail of the discount.

Starbucks Philippines Operations Manager Angela Cole said during the hearing that the company acknowledges the “error in the signage” — which was put up in all Starbucks branches — and said that it was "not properly worded.”

"We are taking full accountability and acknowledge the mistake. We are disappointed at the confusion we caused because of the erroneous signage," Cole said.

Cole said that Starbucks “will continue to extend full discount privileges to senior citizens (and PWDs) for their personal use and enjoyment.”  

Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers) asked Cole why Starbucks issued the policy in the first place and lamented that the explanation comes after a senior citizen took up their complaint with Romualdez.

Cole said that the signage — photos of which circulated on social media and sparked criticism — was put up “in response to our employees asking for a suggested approach.” 

“However, we fully comply and value our senior citizens and extend the discount as a privilege to them,” Cole said.

“Upon the first complaint, we immediately removed the signage,” Cole added.

House ways and means panel chairperson Rep. Joey Salceda (Albay, 2nd District) urged the company operating the coffee chain in the Philippines — Rustan’s Coffee Corp. — to offer a “buy-one-take-one” promotion for senior citizens and PWDs 

“You violated the law. Saying sorry is not enough,” Salceda said.

The lawmaker added that he has also received a complaint alleging that bakery chain Goldilocks limits the use of the government-mandated 20% discount to cake slices, vowing that he would look into the matter. 

Philstar.com has reached out to Goldilocks and will update this story with their response.

Hotel chain facing criminal complaint 

Deborah Dacanay, head of the Quezon City Persons With Disabilities Affairs Office (PDAO), also flagged the practice of some establishments that limit the use of the discount to one store visit per day.

“We would like to ask assistance from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to clarify this matter. Even in malls, that has been our observation,” Dacanay said.

Lawyer Romeo Macalintal also reminded establishments that they can only deny the use of the 20% discount in tandem with promos that are registered with the DTI. 

“Most often, (the reason of) firms (for denying) discounts is that their rate is already on promo. This is very prevalent in hotels and lodging establishments,” said Macalintal, who currently represents a client that filed a criminal complaint against representatives of Marco Polo Hotel-Ortigas for refusing to apply the 20% senior citizen discount.

“We would like to remind establishments that as early as October 2014, the DTI already ruled in a case that the prohibition on double discounting is applicable only when the establishment's promotion has a DTI permit,” Macalintal said.

Macalintal added that the complainant has since filed a petition with the Office of Mayor Vico Sotto to revoke the hotel chain’s business permit in Pasig City.

The lawyer said that some senior citizens have also been prevented from availing of the 20% discount due to the policy by some local government units requiring them to first register as voters.

“I brought this matter to the attention of (Department of Interior and Local Government) Secretary Benhur Abalos that such requirement is a violation. Registration of voters is not mandatory but is only voluntary,” he added.

An estimated 2.3 million senior citizens are currently recipients of the 20% discount, while just under 700,000 PWDs and 170,000 solo parents benefit from the perk, Salceda said.

The increase in prices resulting from establishments passing on the cost of the discount to other consumers is at 0.8%, according to Salceda's analysis of data from the state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies and other public consumption data.

The House ways and means panel chairperson said this increase is manageable and a better option than imposing a new tax to cover the expenses.

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