By Justine Irish D. Tabile, Reporter

BUSINESS GROUPS have asked the government to provide tax credits and other forms of support with the looming implementation of higher discounts for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

On Wednesday, Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez announced plans to grant seniors and PWDs P500 in discounts per month on groceries and prime commodities, up from P260 currently.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President Enunina V. Mangio said the expansion of the discount scheme will affect many companies.

“If (the discount) can be a tax credit, then it will reduce the impact, and gradually the affected businesses can adjust,” Ms. Mangio told BusinessWorld in a Viber message.

Philippine Retailers Association Chairman and immediate past president Rosemarie Bosch-Ong called on the government to address the fraudulent use of senior citizen and PWD benefits before expanding them.

“We have to address the abuse and fraud in government social programs such as senior and PWD discounts. While these programs provide support to the vulnerable, there are instances of misuse,” Ms. Bosch-Ong said in a Viber message.

“It will also be a burden to verify the eligibility of the customer availing of the discount, especially for micro, small, and medium enterprises,” she added.

She also said that the expanded discounts will have a financial impact on businesses without offsetting tax credits.

“They cannot just pass on the cost as this will affect the business,” she said.

Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association President Steven T. Cua said: “By increasing the maximum weekly value of select items to be subsidized (i.e., 5% discount extended to seniors, PWDs, national athletes, and solo parents in certain LGUs) by supermarket operators, retailers may resort to jacking up the margins of items not included in the List of Basic Necessities and Prime Commodities (BNPC’s) under the DTI’s SRP (suggested retail price) Watch or those eligible for senior discounts to stay afloat. Or, retailers may end up not carrying their customers’ favorite brands as margins for these brands become untenable to carry on their shelves.”

He described the situation as a “Triple whammy… as the DTI controls prices, (discount beneficiaries) ask for additional discounts, and these same beneficiaries “demand” to pay via credit/debit cards/digital payments, which charge retailers for usage.”

Asked to comment, Assistant Secretary Amanda F. Nograles of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Consumer Protection Group said that the DTI and the departments of Agriculture and Energy are studying the discount legislation.

Ms. Nograles said in a Viber message that any changes the departments plan to propose will come after due consultation.

The discount applies to rice, corn, bread, meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cooking oil, sugar, vegetables, fruits, onions, garlic, and fresh and processed milk.

According to Trade Undersecretary Ana Carolina P. Sanchez, the department will publish a list of the items covered by the discount scheme after the issuance of the inter-agency circular.