Will consumers finally catch a break?

The government plans to set up ConsumerNet to enhance and strengthen consumer protection and promote his/her welfare and development. 

The inter-agency body is also expected to make it easier and more convenient for consumers to file complaints and have them resolved. 

A draft executive order (EO) will bring together under the ConsumerNet all government agencies with consumer protection functions. The agencies will be  mandated to collaborate in promoting consumer protection and welfare. 

ConsumerNet is expected to facilitate the flow of relevant information between agencies and consumers.  

The draft  EO will establish frontline facilities for consumer queries and concerns and systematic action on consumer issues and complaints. One dispute resolution system will be developed to handle consumer disputes submitted to different agencies. 

There will also be training on consumer relations and complaints handling. 

The trade secretary will chair the ConsumerNet Council, with the agriculture secretary as vice-chair. The Department of Trade and Industry’s  (DTI) Consumer Policy and Advocacy Bureau will serve as secretariat of the council. 

Other government agencies that will be involved in ConsumerNet include the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Department of Finance, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Health; as well as local governments in the National Capital Region. 

The idea of having just one agency to handle all consumer complaints will certainly make it easier for people to file their complaints. As things stand now, most  complaints are sent to DTI because people do not know where and how to file complaints with other agencies.  

I remember when I started my Consumer column with the Philippine Daily Inquirer more than a decade ago, I called the National Telecommunications Commission to ask for their email address so I could forward a complaint.  

The person who answered said they did not have an email address. I was stunned! An agency tasked to regulate high-technology businesses did not even have an email address. 

I also hope the new agency will have more power, more clout to compel erring businesses to do right by their customers. Consumers often complain that they do not get a response from the concerned agencies when they tell them of their problems. 

Even worse, the government agencies seem helpless, or are unable, to provide redress to the consumers. I have personal experience of this inability to resolve a consumer’s complaint.  

At the height of the corona virus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, when the whole country was in almost total lockdown, I ordered food for delivery through Food Panda, which I paid for through PayMaya. 

After waiting for some considerable time, the restaurant called to say they were waiting for me to pick up my order. When I complained to Food Panda about the delay, they said I was supposed to pick up my order. Then they unilaterally cancelled my order, which I had already paid for. 

They would not reimburse me because, they said in their e-mail, it was not part of their policy. 

I complained to DTI’s Fair Trade and Enforcement Bureau and received a copy of their email to Food Panda instructing it to discuss with me how we could resolve the issue. Until now, I have yet to hear from Food Panda. 

From the stories I hear, many consumers have had the same frustrating experience that is why they often do not even bother to file a complaint and just stop patronizing the offending businesses.  

Of course, since these companies do not get called out for their unfair practices, they continue violating consumers’ rights and ignore their customers’ welfare. 

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