Anti-Red Tape Authority and consumer protection

The Anti Red Tape Authority or ARTA has been very helpful to Laban Konsyumer Inc. or LKI in our advocacy in calling out concerns over various consumer issues that are especially important during this period of the pandemic.

In addition to those that I had endorsed in the past two years, there are three current inquiries where ARTA interventions are ongoing in support of consumer protection.

First, ARTA is participating in the crafting and promulgation of the implementing guidelines on senior citizens and PWDs discounts from online transactions.

Second, ARTA is conducting a formal hearing against an Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue for inaction on a request for definitive ruling by LKI on the legality of imposing Value Added Tax on excise taxes of petroleum products.

Third, LKI has proposed that ARTA conduct an independent probe of the recent power plant outages that triggers spikes in spot market prices which could result to higher electricity prices in the July billing.

On the senior citizens and PWDs, who are approximately 8 million Filipino consumers, availing discounts thru online purchases of food, medicines and necessities, ARTA met on June 3 the representatives of DTI, DOH, DSWD, DA and the NCDA to discuss matters concerning the complaint I filed seeking an inquiry into the unreasonable delay in   the issuance of the implementing rules and guidelines in the availment of such discounts.

In that inter agency meeting, it was agreed that the ARTA will join the key agencies in crafting such implementing and uniform guidelines.

In the same inter-agency meeting, it was also agreed that the DSWD will lead the drafting of a Joint Administrative Order (JAO) on the issue because the concerns of senior citizens and PWDs are under its mandate.

The DTI made it clear that senior citizens and PWDs should still be able to avail their discounts when buying basic necessities and prime commodities online.

The DSWD is expected to consolidate comments of concerned agencies on the JAO on or before 15 June 2021 prior to the intended consultation meeting with stakeholders before the end of June.

Effectively, ARTA has set a deadline.

Regarding the Bureau of Internal Revenue, I opposed the imposition of the VAT on excise tax on petroleum products. That is equivalent to P1.20 per liter for gasoline and P0.72 per liter for diesel.

ARTA wrote the BIR to answer its alleged failure to render government services within the prescribed processing time. Pursuant to the Authority’s mandate under Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act of 2018, the Enforcement and Litigation Division of ARTA issued summons against the responsible officer of the BIR and  was ordered to submit their response and other supporting documents within 24 hours from receipt of the summons. Their response shall form part of the records of the Authority and shall be determinative of the Authority’s next course of action and disciplinary action. In the event the position of the BIR is adverse to LKI,I shall pursue the appeal process prescribed by the National Internal Revenue Code.

Finally, on the recent spate of red alerts and brownouts that triggered spikes in spot market prices, there has been finger pointing among the DOE, NGCP, ERC and the power plants on who did not do their work and who are to be accountable and responsible. Even the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting their separate investigations. Meantime, in the supply chain, the consumers are bracing for no power and higher electricity bills.

It was on behalf of the hapless consumers that I issued a press statement that to ensure transparency and good governance, the independent probe should be conducted by ARTA. The power sector stakeholders are deep into interlocking conflicts of interest that makes the case for ARTA to step in. I learned that ARTA is seriously studying the matter notwithstanding Republic Act No. 11234 or the Energy Virtual One Stop-Shop Act that vest DOE the mandate to implement the law.   Of specific interest is the reported inaction by the DOE on the petition for the extension of a Power Supply Agreement submitted by a distribution utility in April this year but remains unacted upon by the DOE. The power supply agreement is reported to supply 260 MW of electricity at P5.00 per kwh. Also, should NGCP contracts for firm reserves of power which NGCP claims will increase power from P0.60 to more than a P1.00 per kwh across the country.

From all of the above, the independent probe by ARTA could ensure that consumers should not bear the brunt of higher prices of power  brought about by the red alerts, brownouts, spikes in the spot market prices and the NGCP firm power reserves,  as well the impact of higher power costs  on prices of basic necessities and prime commodities. In both the Senate and House hearings, I did not hear any concrete measures to shield the consumers from higher prices. ARTA probe could be the consumers price saver.

Atty. Vic Dimagiba, AB, LLB, LLM

President, Laban Konsyumer Inc.

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