FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Our consumers are taking a beating from our prolonged bout with elevated inflation rates. It reflects in consumer acceptance of downsized products, aggravating our uneconomical “sachet” culture. It also reflects on the business models of retailers, increasingly replacing traditional brands with cheaper knock-offs.

The changing consumer habits and new retail strategies reflect a distressed market. This requires more vigilant regulatory action by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

Recently, a consumer advocacy group, Malayang Konsyumer, wrote the DTI Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau. The pro-consumer group relayed to the DTI complaints from its members as well as social media feedback regarding a grocery chain called Dali Everyday Grocery.

In a nutshell, the consumer group accused Dali of cheating on the price of chicken by inserting rice to increase its weight; the frequent inclusion of items in the receipt that the consumer did not buy; the unsanitary condition of fresh produce sold on the shelves and chronically discourteous staff.

Attached to the complaint is a detailed annex of individual complaints by consumers. The list includes replacement of trusted brands with cheaper items deviously packaged to mislead the buyer. An almost routine shortchanging of consumers and numerous incidents involving mistreatment of customers.

To be sure, grocery budgets become tighter by the day. Because of this, consumers try and experiment with alternative but cheaper brands to somehow stretch their purchasing power. The alternative grocery products offered at Dali are packaged to resemble traditional brands, as if to intentionally mislead buyers. Many of these products have been found to be seriously substandard.

It is bad enough that the prices of goods have moved beyond the reach of ordinary consumers. It is worse if retails outfits exploit the plight of consumers by peddling substantially substandard items that are only marginally cheaper than traditional brands. In the case of Dali, this seems to be the business model for extracting profit from impoverished clientele.

The DTI, if it takes consumer protection seriously, must look into the complaints relayed by Malayang Konsyumer. A detailed summary of the regulatory agency’s investigation ought to be published so the public may be informed.

As customer complaints pile up, a DTI investigation becomes more urgent. We all look forward to the regulatory agency’s findings.

Our consumers are oppressed as it is. They should not be exploited further by retail business models taking advantage of their poverty.


If you have money to burn and hate beach resorts in isolated islands, one easy option is to head off to the Masungi georeserve and squander.

The price range for tourist offerings at Masungi is startling.

Renting any of the five glass huts at Kanlungan Lodges will set the tourist back P100,000 a whopping night. Silangan Hall, available for receptions, can be rented for P120,000 for ten hours. Other areas such as Tipunan, Dasalan and Pine Patch can be rented at P155,000.

Trekking on the so-called Legacy Trail will cost tourists P1,500. So-called “conservation fees” are charged amounting to P1,500 on weekdays and P1,800 on weekends. Use of the facilities for prenuptial photoshoots or for seminars will cost between P20,000 and P160,000.

Surely, a trip to Masungi could hardly be called a “budget holiday.” This destination is not for the poor. Not even for the lower middle income families.

Since the Masungi Georeserve is run by an NGO rather than by a regular tourism company, we are not sure if the proper taxes are paid on revenues made. A DENR position paper observes that none of the income from marketing the reservation as a tourism facility is shared with the State. The “foundation” that has somehow gained control of the area by representing itself as an altruistic guardian of the environment has not been very transparent.

What we know is that none of the improvements introduced by the “foundation” – the elevated trails, cottages and reception halls – had requisite clearances from the Protected Area Management Board, the DENR or the local governments. That alone should merit suspension of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the “foundation” and the DENR sealed in 2017.

The MOA explicitly states that anything done at the reservation is subject to the NIPAS Act, specifically in areas covered by the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape (UMRBPL) and the Kaliwa River Forest Reserve. Any degradation in these areas will impact flooding problems and water supply in the metropolitan area. The “foundation” has encroached on these areas.

Several resolutions have been issued by the local governments of Tanay and Baras, the towns that have jurisdiction over the area, condemning the developments introduced by the “foundation.” Those now in control of Masungi simply ignored the resolutions.

Critics of the Masungi arrangement question the involvement of Blue Star Construction and Development Corporation in building all sorts of structures at the reservation. There are dual affiliations between officers of the foundation and officers of this particular corporation. This leads to suspicion that commercial interests have, in fact, taken over the reservation through its supposed caretaker.

Overall, the DENR observes that the development plans of the “foundation” are not harmonized with the Management Plan and Management Zones of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB). This is the source of continuous conflict between the “foundation” and the government regulatory body.

In sum, the “foundation” that has taken control of Masungi through that controversial MOA has behaved like a separate sovereign.

There is something seriously amiss here.

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