In my capacity as President of Laban Konsyumer Inc., I participate as resource person in the deliberations on various House and Senate bills enhancing consumer protection presented to the 18th Congress.
Today , I would like to provide my readers with snapshots of some of those bills.
Foremost among the bills under deliberation are Senate Bill 590 and HB 3866 seeking the mandatory membership of consumer representatives in the Boards of government agencies that regulate power, water, transportation and other public utilities. These agencies include the Toll Regulatory Board, Energy Regulatory Commission, the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System, the Local Water Utilities Administration and the National Telecommunications Commission. Both Bills seek to protect the interests of the consumer from within the regulatory agencies when critical matters such as rate increases are discussed. Our consumer group welcomes the enactment of the above bills.
In the pending Revised Consumer Protection Act, I proposed several enhancements:
First, I proposed the creation of an independent consumer protection entity whose principal mandate shall be consumer welfare protection only.
My second proposal is the creation of an oversight and advisory entity composed of representatives of registered consumer organizations who shall serve pro bono / without any regular compensation.
My third point proposes the inclusion of three additional consumer rights which were mandated under the 2015 amendments to the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection as part of the universal rights of the consumer but which are not yet part of consumer rights as practiced in our country. These rights are: the right of consumers using electronic commerce to be provided with the same level of protection that is not less than those afforded him in other forms of commerce, the right to consumer privacy and global free flow of information, and the enforcement of the duty of the State to promote sustainable consumption.
I supported SB 1583 and HB 7341 extending the term of the lifeline rates or discounts to consumers using no more than 200 kWh per month. The lifeline rates are set to end in 2021 while the proposed extensions are between 10-20 years. However, I added that in this regard, Congress should provide that the subsidy being extended to the lifeline rate beneficiaries should no longer be borne by the consumers, the prevailing practice, and instead, be taken over by the State.
On the Internet or Online Transaction Act (SB 1591 and 1808 and substitute bill HB7425), I endorsed the joint and solidary liability of online selling platforms and merchants in favor of the consumers for any violations of the pertinent provisions of the Consumer Act of the Philippines and other laws.
SB 1188 and HB 302 and 5642 or the LPG Act, eliminates the circulation of generic LPG containers which have no markings, labels, Tate weight, and are unsafe for household use. I proposed a cooling off period of one (1) year for public officials of the implementing agencies who have retired, resigned, or otherwise quit their office before joining the LPG industry. This prohibition is consistent with the Code of Ethics of Public Officials.
Regarding SB 363 and SB 401 on the conversion of Waste to Energy, I placed on record our opposition to the proposal of the renewable energy stakeholders to consider Waste to Energy as a form of renewable energy and thus entitled to the Feed in Tariff incentives under the Renewable Energy Law. Waste to Energy as renewable energy per se is still a debatable concept. Thus, placing Waste to Energy under the renewable energy umbrella merely allows its proponents to avail of the Feed in Tariff and will only result in making it very expensive source of power.
SB 1454 and 1473 and HB 1278, 2662, 5176, and 6658 proposed revisions to the Price Act, as amended and expanded the coverage of State of Calamity to include pandemics such as Covid 19. I suggested the inclusion of Personal Protective Equipment as well as gasoline and diesel to the list of Basic Necessities subject to Price Freeze.
On various House Bills on rural electrification, we proffered that Congress look into the matter of Missionary Charges which require all consumers to pay P0.1561 per kWh. We pointed out that since the National Electrification Administration is subsidized by the General Appropriations Law and that since electric cooperatives are private entities, there is no basis to continue collection of missionary charges being collected from all consumers.
Let us all be vigilant consumers and ensure that the provisions of these Bills are not watered down as they go through the legislative process. I commend the authors of these and the other bills in support of consumer protection.
Atty. Vic Dimagiba is President of Laban Konsyumer Inc.
Email at [email protected]