Restaurateur Elbert Cuenca posted an appeal on Facebook last June 9 asking if senior citizens, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and national athletes could refrain from availing of their government mandated 20% discount at restaurants, to help alleviate the plight of restaurants struggling to survive the COVID-19 crisis. That post unleashed a storm of responses, both positive and negative.
While some interpreted Cuenca’s appeal as a lack of sympathy for senior citizens, PWDs, and national athletes, others showed support for his proposition, many of whom didn’t realize that restaurateurs bear the brunt of the cost of the discount. Cuenca posted the same appeal in the Viber group of the newly-formed RestoPH (with 800+ members from all over the Philippines and counting), and soon, restaurant owners were unburdening with their own stories of fake IDs and vague implementing guidelines, among other issues. ANCX reached out to several of these restaurateurs who agreed to share their thoughts.
Abuses and fakes
Restaurateur Eric Teng recalls serving a table where all 9 family members happened to have PWD ID cards, including the young kids. “PWDs are a minimal part of our population. How can there be 100% availability of PWD cards for a table of nine?” he says incredulously. The family’s declared disabilities were mainly “muscoloskeletal,” “visual,” and “psycho social.” According to the 2010 Census of Population and Housing, PWDs account for 1.57% of the Philippine population, although a 2016 survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority pegged that number at 12%.
Teng also recalls receiving three PWD cards from the same table, with two of them sporting identical ID numbers. All three declared “visual impairment” as their disability, which seems to be the most common one, according to him. “If they are visually disabled, they shouldn’t be able to read a menu or text on their phones, or have a license to drive a car,” he interjects.
Teng assures that he isn’t anti-PWD at all. “I don’t mind giving a discount to PWD persons. As long as it is legit and the law is clear and it is protected from abuse or fraud, and a hefty financial penalty be charged for the use of fake PWD or seniors cards,” he explains. He understands the plight of PWDs on a deeply personal level, revealing that his son was confined to a wheelchair for three months before eventually passing away three years ago. He adds, “I just ask for clarity in the qualifications of a PWD and the vetting process that may not be there but should be.”
It’s not just PWD IDs that can appear suspicious, but senior citizen cards as well. Fellow restaurateur Johnlu Koa doesn’t mince words when he says, “There are also senior discounters who don’t look senior or seniors who abuse by asking others to buy (food) with authorization. I think they have to be required to show their booklet which they totally don’t follow and get upset when asked!” Teng chimes in. “I actually met someone my age before. He looked a bit older and he had a fake senior card and he got his discount. He was about 54 at the time.”
“The business owners take a loss, the landlords take a loss, the tax people take a loss, and all because unscrupulous people are riding on the pain and suffering of persons with disability,” Teng admonishes.
Loss of revenue
Marites Ang of King Chef volunteers other problems with the implementation of the 20% discount. For example, she offers a “happy hour” promo with dimsum priced at 33 to 50% off, but she relates, “Some seniors would insist that they are entitled to get 20% discount on top of the happy hour discount, despite our reference to the ruling that double discounting is not allowed.”
Like Teng and Koa, Ang isn’t against the laws per se. She says, “It’s part of our culture to love and honor the elderly and we are more than happy to give them privileges so they can enjoy life to the fullest. The problem probably lies in managing the expectations of the seniors.” Ang recalls one senior who ordered 6 large dishes good for 12 persons but who insisted the restaurant apply the discount on the entire order (rather than her individual share). She claimed that she would consume everything herself. Ang adds, “She refused to pay the foods that were already cooked if we (didn’t) give in.”
Note that restaurateurs shoulder that 20% discount in their books, which translates to otherwise lost revenue. Ang explains, “During the good times, we just absorb the losses. We just pagbigyan, and not let them feel bad. Right now, with diminishing margins, and the slow economy, it will really help us if we can at least set a cap on the amount of discount, and also have a way to detect fake senior citizen and PWD IDs.”
Essential or luxury?
Raymund Magdaluyo of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse puts these complaints in context, “The main spirit of the law is to celebrate and/or encourage senior citizens, PWDs, and national athletes to be inspired (to remain) integral parts of society.” But it’s the abuse and vagueness of these laws that are at issue here. “We need to safeguard rules so that the real PWD ‘heroes’ get to enjoy this public ‘gift’ in a manner that is undiluted and truly special,” he shares.
According to their respective laws, seniors, PWDs, and national athletes can benefit from discounts on “basic necessities and prime commodities,” including medicine and specified groceries. But for restaurants, what really qualifies as “basic” or essential food? Ang asks, “It will really help if the regulation can present definitions as to what is considered essential and what is luxury. For instance, 20% off on a fast food meal is not the same as 20% off on a P2,500 lapu lapu or crab dish.”
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Johnlu Koa thinks restaurants should follow the lead of groceries which have peso limits put in place. He calculates, “Seniors are allowed P65 maximum discount on any grocery item bought per week. That equates to P1,300 worth of purchase a week which is just reasonable for one person (P1300 x 0.05% discount = P65). Shouldn’t we have something like that (for restaurants)?”
Since his first appeal in early June, Elbert Cuenca has had time to think of “everyone’s happy solution” to the issue. “If there is a cap on the amount that can be discounted, say P500, then there would be less abuse, simply because it won’t be worth the effort,” he proposes. That would mean a maximum P100 discount on any food order, whether it’s a P5,000 steak or a P500 meal. He explains, “The spirit of the law was always about recognizing and alleviating the challenges faced by the cardholders. A P500 cap retains that spirit and keeps things at a reasonable and acceptable level for everyone.” And what it does is remove the motives for the abuse of these privileges.
While Cuenca, Teng, Koa, Ang, and Magdaluyo, along with other restaurateurs, first aired their thoughts about the issue on the RestoPH Viber group, these shared grievances are leading to action, as Teng reveals that the group has already been meeting with the DTI as well as several congressmen, with a RestoPH position paper to be released very soon.
Stella Sy, also active with RestoPH, best explains this new camaraderie that came about in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, “RestoPH is a group of indigenous people with hearts. We feel for each other and we will rise together soon.” And it’s not just wishful thinking. One person’s appeal has led to a shared concern among competitors who have now come together to take action and initiate change.
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