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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, July 15, 2016

The smartness of Smart

The Way We Live
Casiano Mayor Jr

Nearly a year ago, my wife and I went to the Smart sales office at the south-wing of SM Bacolod to inquire on how we could open a Smart Padala Center. The staff who attended to us did not know what Smart Padala was and advised us to go to Pos Marketing because it was, she believed, commissioned to handle the product. So off we went to Pos Marketing only to be told by the staff of its digital office that they have nothing to do with it.

So we went back to Smart, took a queue number again and told another staff who attended to us about our concern. He also did not know what Smart Padala was and advised us instead to open a Smart Money account, an electronic wallet that would allow consumers to pay bills, reload and transfer money using a Smart mobile phone. It was similar to the services offered by Smart Padala and so I did. After opening the account, we asked him to teach us how to pay bills, reload and transfer money.

He told us that a Smart representative will call to see us in a few days. After a few months of waiting, nobody called. Wanting to open a remittance and bills payment business, I searched the Internet about Smart Padala and found out that I could apply for it online. I did. A few months later, a Smart Padala representative called and paid us a visit. He advised us not to use the Smart Money subscriber identity module or sim because it was for individual, not for business, use. He sold us a prepaid sim.

While waiting for Smart Padala to approve my application, Smart-SM sent me a text that my Smart Money subscription would lapse and I had to renew it if I wanted to continue the service. When I went to buy some groceries at SM Supermarket, I dropped by the Smart office, which had moved to the north-wing, and told a staff about the text and that I had no desire to renew my subscription. In that case, she told me, I did not have to file a new application.

Last week, Smart-SM gave me a call and informed me to settle my bill amounting to about a thousand pesos. “A bill for what?” I ask. She answered that it was for account so-and-so, rattling off a number. I told her that I didn't understand the billing and could not pay for a service that was not provided to me. I would appreciate it, I added, if she or her office could send me an email to explain what the bill was all about. She took my email but did not send any message after that.

Last Tuesday, I got a call from another lady informing me about my bill of P1,400. I told her that I had already talked to a Smart caller about it and that I was waiting for Smart's explanation about the bill. She answered that she was calling from a bill collection firm, which was affiliated with so-and-so law office and to whom Smart had endorsed my case, as if I had committed a big crime. I thought, wow!, this lady had presumed that I would freeze in fear if she mentioned a lawyer's name. I told her, with a raised voice, to tell their lawyer to email me about the bill. She told me to go to Smart instead and settle my bill there.

Although a bit busy, I went to Smart-SM Tuesday afternoon. I told a young man who attended to me that I had not used my Smart Money account and found it anomalous that I was being made to pay for a service that I did not get. Before my service contract lapsed, I had been paying my bills each time Smart demanded payment by text. He told me that I should have requested for disconnection to stop the bills payment. “What if I don't pay the bill?” I asked. He answered that I could not get any Smart services in the future.

As I drove home, I realized that Smart could have disconnected our Smart Padala remittance service which was attached to my small travel agency, CPM Travel & Tours. A few days after I told that Smart lady who called me up a week ago that I want Smart to explain why I had to pay for a service that it did not provide, I could not remit money for our regular customer who sends P600 to her husband in Cadiz every now and then.

“It figures,” I told my wife when I arrived home as if I had discovered something of utmost importance. “We failed to remit the money of our customer last week because, I suspect, Smart had cut off our remittance services to force us to pay,” I added. “So what do we do, pay?” my wife asked. “We might be forced to do so,” I said, ruing the fact that we, consumers, are often helpless against the exploitation of big companies.

A Smart Padala representative to whom we had brought up our remittance problem promised to see us next week. I expect him to confirm my suspicion. If our problem is not linked to my Smart Money bill, I would wait for Smart to send me the bill by mail so I could formally write to the company about my decision not to pay for a supposed service that was not provided to me.

A month or so ago, I read a news report about President Rodrigo Duterte rebuking Manuel V. Pangilinan of the Philippine Long Distance Co. after the businessman told the new government in a press conference to leave business alone. “Simply recall that you are just a puppet of the foreign-based Salim Group while I am the chosen President of the Republic of the Philippines,” Duterte fired back.

Reports said that the Salim Group is predominantly controlled by Indonesia businessman Antholi Salim whose business interests are represented by Pangilinan's MVP Group, which has a miniscule share in the foreign aggregate. Since then, I haven't read any article about Pangilinan giving unsolicited advice to the new government.

I hope that Duterte's censure of Pangilinan signals a policy shift in the government's dealings with the business sector. Past governments had always been giving private companies so much clout that big firms often exploit not only their customers but also their employees. Governments are supposed to protect the people and regulate businesses.

What happens is that governments often protect businesses and regulate people.

(The author can be reached by his cellphone 09066742685 or by email casianomayor@yahoo.com)*

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