Advocating consumer protection on an ASEAN level

Published March 6, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Atty. Vic Dimagiba

In my December 12, 2020 column, I wrote on the ASEAN Peer review of Philippine consumer policy and law.  Recently, the Philippines held   the debriefing on the draft country assessment report for the ASEAN Peer Review on Consumer Protection in the Philippines. The Philippines is the first ASEAN country to undergo the peer review, with support by the ASEAN Regional Expert as well as peer reviewers from Malaysia and Vietnam. The comprehensive assessment was based on literature and legal review, self-assessment by Government, stakeholder survey and sectoral dialogues including the Laban Konsyumer Inc.  This was guided by the ASEAN High-Level principles on consumer protection and in due consideration of regional and international good practices. The recommendations are closely linked to the government’s current reform agenda in consumer welfare and protection.

I noted the progress, effectiveness and efficiency of consumer protection actions, with focus on the main areas of policy formulation, advocacy, redress , monitoring and enforcement.

The points for discussion included streamlining and coordinating policy and enforcement , both  at the central  and local  level. It enhanced and enlarged the scope of action of non governmental actors like the consumer associations . It addressed emerging issues related to  the digital economy and cross border trade , within and beyond the ASEAN.

The assessment report calls for a formal education and a national  curriculum  in consumer education. The report revisited the stalled integration of consumer education in the K to K -12  12 curriculum as well as in tertiary levels. The draft report also recommended capacity building for lawyers and judges to provide them with a clearer understanding of consumer rights, how to litigate and decide cases   for violations of consumer rights.

I supported the recommendations that the Consumer Act of the Philippines, Standards Law and other Laws and Regulations relating to Consumer Protection should be reviewed and reformed to strengthen consumer protection, enable consumer groups, and lessen regulatory overlap between agencies. More product testing facilities should be created. Existing laws and regulations on Product Safety and Standards, including those dealing with products obtain through government procurement, should be revisited and updated.

As suggested by the draft report, the manpower and resources available to the Government should be increased given the quantity and frequency of complaints received by them. Manpower and funding resources should likewise be allocated for the pursuit of consumer education programs and materials. To further strengthen coordination among regulators and other stakeholders involved in consumer protection, the development of a National Council and Board of Directors for Consumer Protection similar to those found in Thailand and other jurisdictions should be examined. It noted that consumer groups have difficulty filing cases against big corporations.  A national consumer association like in Thailand was part of the recommendations.

The report proposed to enhance the Dispute Resolution thru the Online Dispute Resolution framework. Thus, rules to protect Filipino consumers transacting with foreign sellers through online platforms should be enacted. Rules on Cross Border Online transactions particularly regarding redress where the seller is outside the Philippines should be crafted. An agency within the DTI specifically catering to the protection of consumers involved in online transactions should be created and given adequate resources.

The online dispute resolution system of DTI should be pursued and strengthened as this will streamline the resolution of consumer complaints. Consumer education regarding this system, as well as the capacity training for those handling and resolving disputes will help ensure the success of the system.

At Laban Konsyumer Inc., we are one with all the stakeholders in our joint mission to enhance and improve the consumer protection system in the country. It is very encouraging to see that many of our suggestions and recommendations are aligned and that we have a common purpose. The next step is implanting the conclusions and recommendations so that the government and consumer groups can roll out effectively the consumer welfare programs in the pipeline.

We are fervently exerting our advocacy that the proposed Internet Transaction   and the LPG Safety Bills are enacted into law before the adjournment of the current 18th Congress and before our politicians goes into the election trail in 2022.   It will be an additional bonus for the consumer groups when the Revised or Enhanced Consumer Bills is also signed into law.  Most of the ASEAN draft report  are addressed by  the pending Bills in Congress.

Atty. Vic Dimagiba is President of Laban Konsyumer Inc.

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