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Sound of silence

Herbie Gomez .

THE Department of Trade and Industry, the city council’s trade committee, and the Cagayan de Oro Price Coordinating Council may want to review what looks to me like an unwritten policy of non-disclosure when it comes to establishments under question for non-compliance to the Consumer Act. This law provides: “It shall be unlawful to offer any consumer product for retail sale to the public without an appropriate price tag, label or marking publicly displayed to indicate the price of each article, and said products shall not be sold at a price higher than that stated therein and without discrimination to all buyers.”

This policy of silence just doesn’t seem right. If it is not a policy, then what is this omerta-like animal?

I brought this concern to the attention of Councilor George Goking, the chairman of the city council’s trade committee, and lawyer Egay Uy, co-chairman of the local price coordinating council. They said they would bring this matter to the attention of DTI and take this up during their meeting.

I think the two officials saw my point, pondered on it, and gave it some weight. My opinion is that this policy of secrecy, whether official or unofficial, is not pro-consumer in that it hides from the consuming public — the great majority — what erring stores want to remain hidden or kept in the dark. That defeats the very purpose of the Consumer Act that is there to protect the interests of consumers, and not the interests or public image of malls or grocery stores.

One of the reasons why the violations   continue is because the DTI has long been handling this problem on violations with kid gloves. Take, for instance, the case of Gaisano. It’s management got a reprimand or a notice from DTI a few months ago. When Gaisano was identified in the news, its executives complained and DTI became really uncomfortable because the establishment’s name was not supposed to be leaked. So now, it’s the inspectors’ fault because Gaisano was identified? Why is that?

It’s not that erring establishments are accused of committing heinous crimes and so, I cannot understand why DTI should become panicky if not, too concerned about the relatively petty public relations problems of malls and grocery stores. Rather, it should be more concerned about the rights of consumers and focus on protecting their interests. Protecting consumers also means informing them about which stores are strictly following the Consumer Act and which establishments are lax or are not taking the law seriously or are notorious and shameless violators.

Ask us, the consumers, and we will tell DTI that we want to know the stores that got reprimanded or were slapped with notices or “show cause” orders. In fact, it would be a great idea if DTI or city hall would go public with a list of erring establishments. That is a small price for erring establishments to pay vis-à-vis the millions of pesos that they have been raking in day in and day out in the city. If they have a sense of shame, that should be enough to make them shape up, correct mistakes and whip their supervisors into making sure the violations don’t happen again or else.

When a public official is brought to court, he is identified; he cannot say he should not be identified because there is no verdict yet. And let me just state matter-of-factly that “Tokhang” has produced lists of drug suspects, many of whom were publicly shamed under state sponsorship and made to wear the equivalent of the scarlet letter even when they have not been charged in court. Many citizens, especially the impoverished who can’t fight back, and critics, including a murdered priest, have been subjected to witch-hunts and public ridicule over unsubstantiated accusations by this government lately. Yet when grocery stores in malls are caught violating the Price Tag Law in flagrante delicto, “Taymsa, let’s wait for the explanation…” Yet the public is never informed about the explanation and the violation is swept under the rug like it’s meant to be buried and forgotten forever and ever. And so I ask, why should Gaisano, et al., be exempted from the very same standards and policies this government has been imposing, rightly or wrongly, on the poor? That, my friends, is revolting.

Let me just point out that since its is the consuming public’s right and interests that are at stake here, then the establishments caught red-handed need to explain to the consumers themselves, the public that patronizes the stores, and not just to the members of the local price coordinating council or to the DTI director who, it seems, just forwards the letters of explanation to the filing cabinet where these are meant to gather dust until who-knows-when.

I hope that DTI and members of the local price coordinating council would start debating on this official or unofficial policy of secrecy which is unreasonably pro-capitalist, anti-consumer, and goes against the fundamental principles of transparency. This code of silence, this omerta, simply smacks of double standard if not, cover-up. Pastilan.

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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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