I’m sorry for being so cryptic with this post last week. I had to keep mum about the details until the issue was resolved. Fortunately things have gotten to a good place right away so that I can finally share with you what happened.
Noah is mixed fed right now. In addition to my breastmilk, Noah has also been taking NAN HA 2. Last April 9, I went to Robinson’s Commonwealth to buy toiletries for myself when I decided to also buy a can of milk because Noah’s supply is running low. I picked up a can of NAN HA 2, went to the cashier and brought out Noah’s PWD (Person with Disability) ID and booklet. The cashier got Noah’s ID and entered his details in her register. She then showed me the screen and told me
Cashier: “ma’am wala pong discount”.
So I told her
Me: “Oo, walang discount itong mga gamit ko, itong gatas lang”
C: “Ma’am wala po talaga e”
M: “Hindi yan pwede, ang formula kasama sa discount ng mga PWD. Hindi nyo ba pwede i-override yan?”
The cashier then called her supervisor who just showed me the POS screen and told me that there was no way they can change what was in the screen because it was automated.
M: “Hindi ko ito babayaran. Paki void yung transaction”
After this, I called Dan who was waiting for me in the car. I wasn’t really prepared to deal with this. I was only supposed to buy feminine pads for chrissakes but something came over me and I just needed to fight this. What was legally due to my son was being denied by this corporation. It’s not even the discount, which was a measly 5 percent or 50 pesos of the cost of Noah’s milk that mattered, labanan na ito ng prinsipyo.
I talked to the Manager on Duty, with my voice cracking and asked her if what just happened – the non-application of the PWD discount on Nan HW 2 – is store policy or if its a new ruling by the DTI. The manager replied that the reason why the milk was excluded is because it was “stage milk”. I had to pick up my jaw off the floor. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The DTI Admin Order lists dairy, fresh and processed milk, and infant formula as being eligible for discounts. NAN HW2 was under all categories. I was trying to understand the rationale the manager gave me but I feared my head would explode. So I asked her if there was a formal written policy of their company that specifies that PWDs are not entitled to their discounts on infant formula. Unfortunately the manager was not able to answer me. I left my name and number with her and stormed off the store.
I was extremely disappointed and I was also fuming mad. So just to check if this policy was just by Robinsons, I went to a nearby Mercury Drug. I got a can of milk, went to the cashier and showed Noah’s ID and booklet. I asked them if the NAN HW2 is eligible for a discount. Without hesitation the cashier said yes. This confirmed that what happened was isolated only to Robinsons and that the exclusion of the discount was not a new ruling by the DTI.
When I got home, I texted my friends and told them what happened. I had to calm down. I tried to sleep off the disappointment but I resolved to write to the company as soon as possible. I had a lot of help from friends who read, re-read and helped me revise the letter. Mahirap magsulat ng emotional for sure and it was great to have friends who reigned in my letter.
So on April 11, I sent this out:
Mr. Jody Gadia
110 E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue,
Dear Mr. Gadia:
I am Neva Arboleda Santos, a mother to two boys. My youngest, who is only six months old, has Down syndrome and was issued a Person with Disability (PWD) ID card by the Social Services Division of Quezon City Hall last December 2012.
I want to inform you of our unfortunate experience in one of your supermarkets, particularly, the Commonwealth Branch in the afternoon of April 9, 2013. The incident involved your store’s refusal to apply the required 5% discount on my infant son’s milk formula, NAN HW Two.
When I was in line to pay for my son’s milk formula and other sundries, I showed the cashier my son’s PWD ID card which she received. The cashier entered the details of my son’s PWD ID card. She showed me the screen of her POS system and informed me that my son is not eligible for a discount on the infant formula. I was surprised by this since I have been consistently buying my son’s infant formula from other establishments, with the corresponding discount, without any mishap or issue. In fact, right after this incident, I went to another store which verified that they would honor the discount on my son’s formula.
I informed the cashier that what she said was not correct and that she should apply the required discount even if she has to override the POS to do it. The cashier called a senior staff to assist her but the senior staff merely told me that she cannot do anything about my concerns nor override the system as shown in the POS screen.
I requested to speak to the manager of the store to get clarification on two things:
1) If the refusal to apply the discount is a company policy based on a new DTI ruling; and
2) If there is an available written policy specifying that milk such as NAN HW Two, is not eligible for a discount.
The manager who spoke to me explained that NAN HW Two is not eligible for the discount because it is “stage milk”. From my understanding of her explanation, “stage milk” is considered as follow-on milk despite the fact that it is prescribed to infants such as my son. Therefore, it appears that it is your store’s policy to exclude follow-on milk that infants require for survival and nutrition from the discount provided to persons with disabilities.
I asked the manager if she is aware that infant formula such as Nan HW Two is included in the list of Basic Necessities under the law. She simply replied that she cannot give me an answer at the moment.
I left your establishment extremely disappointed and, after verifying with another establishment that the discount is applicable on the formula, perplexed about your company’s apparently exclusive decision to exclude “stage milk” from the discounts to PWDs in clear violation of Section 32(j), Chapter 8 of Republic Act No.944, which amends RA No. 7277, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons and goes against the list found under Section 2(a) of the Joint DTI-DA Administrative Order No.02 Series of 2008 where infant formula is identified distinctly under Basic Necessities.
The law makes no distinction as to whether the infant formula is “stage milk” or not. All infant formulas are covered by the discount.
So this letter simply seeks to ask you to enlighten me as to what legal basis you have to deny PWDs, such as my infant son, of their lawful rights based on your store’s own classification which I do not know to be contained in the law or any of the rules made to implement it. It is hard enough to raise a child but to provide for the special needs of a person with disabilities – medical expenses, therapy sessions, and the emotional and psychological drain on the ones caring for them – is extremely trying. It is, I believe, for this reason that the law was created so that our community shares in caring for them, as it should share in the caring of all children.
Robinsons Supermarket refused to share in that duty on April 9, 2013. I can imagine how other parents such as myself just paid without demanding for the discount because they were simply too tired to raise a fuss. Allow me then to raise a fuss on their behalf. As a parent and a citizen, I feel duty-bound to report your illegal policy to the Department of Trade and Industry. I will also be relaying these events to the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines to save other parents from the anguish that little shopping trip caused me. We have enough to deal with and boycotting your stores will keep us from dealing with yet another form of discrimination.
I am demanding also a copy of that policy, which your store manager promised to send me. Please email me the policy within the day. If you are implementing it in your stores daily, I am sure you can manage to send out a copy immediately.
Neva Arboleda Santos
A couple of hours after I sent that email, my phone rang. It was Dennis Aquino, the company’s operations manager. He apologized on behalf of the company. Apparently, they are switching over to a new POS and NAN-HW 2 was classified as a non-discountable item by mistake. I asked Mr. Aquino if he can reply to me in writing so that I have proof of their reply.
Dear Ms. Santos,
Thank you very much for bringing this up to my attention.
Please allow me to extend my apologies in behalf of Robinsons Supermarket for whatever inconvenience that you have experienced brought about by the confusion in the coverage of the PWD benefits, particularly with regard the milk NAN HW Two that you were buying for your son.
I wish to assure you that our corporation strictly adheres to all government regulations, local and national alike, in the conduct of its business. The unfortunate incident you experienced was brought about by our efforts in improving our front line system. For your information, we are currently in the process of improving our Point-of-Sale (POS) system to better serve our customers such as yourself and as a result of this, the system must have inadvertently reclassified the product that you were purchasing to another category that resulted in the confusion. Rest assured that we have already addressed this concern immediately.
Moving forward, I will ask our HR Dept. to coordinate with the Down Syndrome Association of the Phil, through Mr. Elmer Lapena and Ms. Agnes Lapena, to conduct training sessions for our store personnel with regard creating awareness for and the proper conduct of servicing persons with disabilities.
Once again, I truly appreciate your taking time in bringing up this important matter to us so that we may be able to serve you better.
To which I replied:
Dear Mr. Gadia –Thank you for taking the time to respond. To be honest, I can’t see any reason for the exclusion in discount unless your company has classified NAN HW Two as being other than milk or formula. I made this observation because the manager on duty gave me the “stage milk” explanation.I believe Agnes Lapena has gotten in touch with you about this so yes let’s move forward from this incident by getting the proper training, education and information to you and your employees.For similar instances in your stores in the future where and how can parents like me seek assistance and clarification?
Thank you again for your update and time. As previously stated, however, I hope you understand that the incident still has to be reported to the DTI.Regards,Neva Santos
To Robinsons’ credit, they resolved the issue right away. I appreciate the fast reply and the quick resolution. A director of DSAPI also got in touch with Mr. Gadia. Apparently the DSAPI, who has been an active partner of SM Malls in providing awareness and trainings on handling PWDs got in touch with Robinsons several years back but it was never pursued. Maybe now’s the time for the company to reconsider?
I have yet to go back to Robinsons Commonwealth after the incident (I bought Noah’s milk at a Mercury Drug near our house) but I did relay what happened to my fellow parents at DSAPI and forwarded them Mr. Gadia’s email address should they encounter similar issues in the future. If there are lessons to be learned here, it’s that one should never be afraid to insist on what they know is right. I’m usually the type of person who would brush things off to avoid inconveniences but when it comes to my kids, hindi to pwede. I need to be strong for them. They need me (and Dan) to stand up for them. I hope that Robinsons takes up DSAPI’s offer to partner for PWD awareness too. They can learn a lot from the association and we can learn a lot from them too. I have volunteered to be a part of the training programs as well. I heard that Mr. Gadia wants to meet me in person and I do hope that opportunity presents itself soon. Until then, I hope our grocery trips will all be uneventful 😉