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We motorists are consumers too. We are part of the intricate socio-economic web that ensures goods supplied by businesses end up with us. Keep consumers happy by providing them what they need, and the economy is in good spirits as well. And it is the government’s duty to ensure the capitalist economy we now practice churns and grows.
So what happens when motorists are yet again left high and dry by some ill-thought government policy? Well, we need not look far to find out.

Winging it
The tit-for-tat between the Senate Committee on Public Services Chair Senator Grace Poe and the Department of Transportation Secretary Art Tugade  reached a popcorn-level crescendo last week when both parties decided to take to the press and social media to air their respective grievances in the controversial Private Motor Vehicle Inspection Center issue last February 27th. Both parties did not shy away from not only attacking each other’s side of the issue, but also each other.
Now senator Poe and Secretary Tugade have been at loggerheads over transportation policy  ever since the Duterte administration’s request for Emergency Powers to fix the traffic problem  was discussed and stonewalled in the Senate back in 2016. So, it is not surprising how much mud-slinging has happened ever since Senators started to look into the PMVIC issue.
But with President Duterte once again saving the day for the DOTr by making PMVIC testing non-mandatory, and the DOTr and  the Vehicle Inspection Center Association of the Philippines (VICOAP) agreeing to lower its testing prices, it only shows an inherent flaw in the DOTr’s program implementation protocols. It is a practice that has once again made more problems for the people than the ones it is trying to solve. And that policy is what Secretary Tugade calls “Partial Operability.”
With Tugade’s conviction that a project that is not even 100% complete can start serving the people, we, the motorist, are exposed to substandard service and a confusing rigmarole of actions even the implementers could not define. Instead of minimizing birth pains, we are made to suffer through them. Remember the RFID drama late last year? Or the concrete barrier incidents of the EDSA Carousel that could have been avoided with proper information dissemination and implementation as per the original plan. These are all like ordering a dish from a restaurant and getting a half-cooked meal, with the promise that the rest of your dish will follow to complete the dining experience. Not exactly what we deserve especially when we are paying for the meal.
The PMVIC project, with only a handful testing centers operational by  the first of January, was pushed to become a mandatory requirement even when the whole system was nowhere near ready to accommodate the surge of cars and motorcycles. Good intentions aside, the project faced extreme opposition not only from vote-hungry politicians but also from the public themselves, wary of additional expenses just when their financial security has been put into question by the pandemic.
These controversial programs were all good on paper and would have benefitted commuters and motorists alike. But as we have seen, half-baked implementation is also half-raw and it was  bound to mess with the public’s stomach, and more so, its appetite.

It’s for who’s good again?
Are we not supposed to be against additional expenditures during this pandemic? At least that was the thought behind the PMVIC mess, was it not? So why did the Department of Trade and Industry decide to slap a Safeguard Duty on imported automobiles creating additional costs for automobile distributors?
With the issuance of DTI Department Administrative Order 20-11, the Bureau of Customs began collecting Php 70,000 per unit for imported passenger cars, and Php 110,000 per unit for imported light commercial vehicles. According to the department, this was to level the playing field against the domestic automobile manufacturing industry which has seen a dip in sales of locally manufactured cars as imports began to flood the market. Seconded by the Department of Labor and Employment, they see this measure as a way to save local jobs.
But some questions need to be asked. Was the DTI expecting automobile distributors  to stop importing affected models and just sell locally made ones? Or were they expecting manufacturers to absorb the cost and just pay duties like they were chump change?
Importing cars is not like importing cement though, a product the DTI recently imposed a safeguard duty on.  But vehicles are designed for different price points, specifications, and functions for different people. And this new levy was bound to hit us consumers hard. And it did.
Toyota, MItsubishi, Isuzu have signified their intent to collect the safeguard duty directly from customers in the form of a security deposit. Dealerships will then hold on to the customer’s money for about 120 days or until the Tariff Commission decides either in favor of collecting the additional duties or not. And it is likely other car brands will follow suit.
For some manufacturers, the most logical way for them to deal with this bond requirement is to pass the added cost to consumers. This time though, they decided to do this wholesale, and with VAT included. Just to show the public who thought of imposing it in the first place perhaps?
Amidst the current confusion on whether this duty will be permanent or not, other brands have made it a marketing tactic to aid in running out current inventory which was imported prior to the AO taking effect. But it is fair game as to how much the new batch of affected imported vehicles will cost the car buyer as the industry as a whole is trying to comprehend its impact on their businesses.
Unfortunately, it is us, the very same people who are already reeling from the economic and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for basically a year now, who will end up paying more.  And here we were thinking that after the PMVIC drama, the government was really concerned about motorists spending more than they have to. What is your bet on whether that security deposit will come back to you or not?
A smart consumer who is financially challenged will most likely hold off buying the car he needs. Or at best, compromise to buy a car that is cheaper, unaffected by the safeguard deposit, and most likely not to his preference. Either way, because of the DTI, we lose.
Thank you for the great timing of our government on this one. The automotive industry, which is recovering from an almost 40% slump last year is just so happy to comply with your latest order. The DTI was supposed to be the consumers’ savior and guardian, now it is just another government agency out for your money.
Matira ang matibay.  

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