A consumer's tale of woe

Aug 26, 2017

The following is an interesting tale for consumers, partly because all of us are customers of one or another water distribution system and mostly because it happens to be true and factual.

It started sometime in June of this year. This couple who have been long- time residents of a gated subdivision received their monthly water bill showing a current account of P4,737.89. They were naturally surprised, aghast at the sharp spike in their bill which was normally between P1,200.00 and P1,400.00 /month, a couple of times perhaps rising to P1,800.00 /month. The lady of the house promptly wrote the utility company a letter to lodge a complaint, citing their past bills for well over a decade and their record of prompt payment through all their years of residency.

She also narrated in her letter that she noticed a rather strong water leak outside of their gate which remained unattended for weeks despite several calls to the utility company from the village guard.

After this first letter, a repairman came after a couple of days to investigate the leak and after a cursory check, the utility representative informed the homeowner that the leak was before the meter and has no effect whatsoever on the meter reading. The next day, a team was dispatched to repair the leak, digging and breaking through the concrete just outside the front gate to get to the pipes. They also promptly cemented back whatever they destroyed after fixing the leak though the area fronting the gate is no longer what it looked like before. This is not the first time they repaired a leak in this very same area and the original red tiled area just before the gate is now an unsightly gray cemented patch. But this was tolerated by the homeowner with nary a complaint-all in the name of cooperation in a village's environmental concern.

The couple left for a two-week trip abroad without receiving a reply to their letter. They withheld payment, waiting for the utility company's response. And then the next bill came, this time showing a bill of P3,574.56. They could only surmise that the repair of the leak covered only a part of this billing period. Still, there was no written response from the utility company.

When the third billing came, the wife wrote another letter citing all the attendant details. To her surprise, the utility company cut off their water supply, prompting her to rush to the nearby business office of the utility company to lodge her complaint. The young lady who attended to her was efficient but courteous, and after studying the pertinent documents of the case, she advised the lady to temporarily pay the average bill which she reckoned to be P1,500.00/month for the three-month period while they launch an investigation into the case. The couple paid the amount of P4,500.00 as suggested the next day and the water service was promptly restored.

Come August, a new bill arrived reflecting a current bill of P1,429.20. However, the total amount to be paid carried over the full balance of the unpaid previous bills ofP5,726.79, so the homeowner had to pay a total of P7,387.21.

The homeowner then rushed back to the business office where she lodged her complaint and talked with the same lady who referred her to the Head of the zone area. The case was reviewed on the spot, the homeowner producing the water bills and her letters and the Manager showing her the report of the on-the-spot check of the reported leak. For her part, the lady of the house cited their past records, their average water bills for well over a decade, and the fact that, apart from the maids, she and her husband were typical empty nesters with the kids visiting on weekends only.

The one-on-one meeting with the Manager lasted for several minutes, with both parties sticking tenaciously to their side of the issue. The Manager said there is no way that they can agree to any rebate, sticking to the technical report on file. The homeowner, exasperated, simply asked: can you please just explain to me how our water bill jumped more than 400% in one month and then normalized after the water leak was finally repaired? The Manager couldn't offer a reasonable explanation but ventured a lame excuse: maybe your maids left your water running unattended for a long time!!? That would have created a big pool of water somewhere in the house for days on end, but I guess the Manager could not find a better excuse.

Obviously, the meeting wasn't going anywhere with both parties sticking to their guns. The homeowner sensed that it was not within the Manager's parameters to make a decision that may run contrary to the policies of the company, no matter the attending circumstances. The homeowner asked the Manager if there was ever any instance that the utility company ever granted a rebate for a valid complaint. His response was this: the company was always willing to replace a defective meter if it can be proven that it was the cause of erroneous billings. And what about the previous bill before the meter was replaced - will there be a condonation of any kind? No, said the Manager, but the water bill for the succeeding months will have been corrected!!?!

Sensing that this was going nowhere and taking note of the long queue of customers waiting to take up their own issues against the utility company, the homeowner requested that the issue be raised to the Manager's superior and left the matter at that. Meanwhile, she paid her current bill and is waiting for a written reply from the company.

In the face of all these, the homeowners were quick to add that there was never an instance where the employees of the utility company were ever discourteous or impatient. The business office was effectively a complaint center, but the attending staff never lost their cool even when faced with irate and unreasonable customers like that very day when the homeowner was there.

This piece is written in the interest of the ordinary consumer-- it is not meant to disparage but hopes to be constructive. There is such a thing as a valid complaint, and if all indications prove this, airtight policies cannot be invoked in place of reasonable negotiations.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

For comments & inquiries (email) sunshine.television@yahoo.com


About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)