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The ‘deadly’ trend of using TROs vs product standards

There’s this emerging trend of using injunction orders to prevent the Department of Trade and Industry from implementing certain mandatory product standards. In particular, two trial courts have shelved the mandatory standards on flat glass. The DTI has already filed a petition for certiorari against these injunction orders before the Court of Appeals, which is still pending. Just recently also, another case was filed enjoining the DTI from implementing the standards on roofing materials.

Section 9 Article XVI of the 1987 Constitution provides that “the State shall protect consumers from trade malpractices and from substandard or hazardous products, thus, the continuous updating of all existing standards and policies and procedures regarding the mandatory implementation.”

It is a fact that product standards are set for the protection of all consumers, be they rich or poor. It does not necessarily follow that when you put or improve standards it will increase prices.

Imagine what would happen to consumers who bought substandard GI Sheets, for example. They would have to replace their roofing materials earlier than those who bought quality GI sheets. This means they would have to spend for laborers who would dismantle the damaged GI sheets. After that, they’ll buy new ones and have them installed again. Isn’t that a disservice to the consumers? Factor in the risk to the life of their loved ones and the unnecessary wastes generated.

Do we want to see more substandard GI sheets getting torn and being blown all over the place and hurting people during typhoons? Do we want to see roofing materials caving in because they couldn’t hold the accumulated ashes from volcanoes that erupted? Do we want to see people getting injured—even fatally—by glasses that broke during an earthquake or typhoon?

We have experienced all these in previous disasters. When do we learn from experience? Have we not noticed that typhoons are becoming stronger, not to mention we are preparing for the so-called Big One? I repeat, we have been practicing the “Duck, Cover, and Hold” drill to perfection, but can the building materials hold?

This is why we need better standards, the implementation of which should not be hindered by court injunctions.

Every time a court would issue a TRO or injunction, there are literally no standards in effect. The DTI and other concerned agencies have no legal basis to conduct market monitoring and check the adherence of importers and manufacturers to established quality metrics.

Can we prevent natural and even man-made calamities from occurring while the courts are still resolving these petitions for injunction filed by traders versus the product standards? Will the calamities wait until we’ve reinstituted the standards?

Obviously, this is becoming a deadly trend. This is why I’m reiterating my call for action from our three branches of government, and I discussed this in the recent Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessments meeting. I also noted there the injunction order issued against the Department of Finance, which seized boxes of unlicensed cigarettes manufactured inside an economic zone in Pampanga for non-payment of appropriate taxes and violation of labeling provisions.

To speed up the resolution of these cases, we have to select trial courts, probably two per city, and make them the venues for petitions concerning the implementation of product standards and smuggling. Being knowledgeable of the nuances of these types of cases, the judges in these trial courts will be able to treat them with urgency and decide immediately. While they can also hear other cases, these courts will specialize in smuggling and product standards.

For Congress, I’m calling on the Oversight Committee of both houses to review the implementation of Consumer Act provisions pertaining to product standards. Perhaps there should be a law preventing the court from issuing injunctions versus product standards because of the supremacy of the welfare of the Filipino consumers.

We need quick action on this matter. While the injunction cases are pending, the market is vulnerable to the deluge of imported substandard products, especially in this time of pandemic when manufacturers and traders in other countries are looking at other economies to offset lost sales on the domestic front.

What’s interesting is when I talked to both importers and local manufacturers, none of them said they were against product standards per se. Of course, nobody would just admit that they do not want to follow quality standards; you’ll lose customers automatically if you do that.

Instead, what the importers complained about were the voluminous reports and documentation that they were being made to produce, causing them delay and higher demurrage, costs that will eventually be passed on to consumers. We also do not want that. We do not want product standards to cause delay and additional costs to both local manufacturers and importers.

Standards are necessary to protect consumers, in the same way competition is also beneficial to consumers.

Though we are for “Buy Pinoy, Buy Local,” there are times, particularly if there are shortages, we also need importation to make the market contestable.

The manufacturers and importers shouldn’t quarrel over this, if they have the noble intention of protecting the consumers. So if the problem is voluminous reporting, bring it to the concerned agencies, like the Anti-Red Tape Authority.

If you file an injunction, you are doing a disservice to the consumers while making the claim that you are for the welfare of the consumers.

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is a thing of the past. The doctrine now is “Consumer is the King.” Anyone disagreeing?

In a country without product standards, how will the consumers be protected?

Dr. Jesus Lim Arranza is the chairman of the Federation of Philippine Industries and Fight Illicit Trade; a broad-based, multisectoral movement intended to protect consumers, safeguard government revenues and shield legitimate industries from the ill effects of smuggling.

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