By J. Edgardo P. Cruz
recent months, the global consumer market saw a wave of recall of
toys made in China that do not comply with safety standards. Most of
the toys withdrawn from the market were found to be containing high
level of lead which is toxic if ingested by young children. Still
others were found to have small parts that pose choking hazards to
infants and toddlers. While there were hardly actual injuries or
illnesses reported to have been caused by these toys, they were
nonetheless immediately pulled out of the market not so much because
they posed imminent health risks but because their manufacturers
violated the law on product safety standards.
recall in developed countries, like the United States, is a common
occurrence. But in the Philippines, it comes very few and far
between. Of course, the reason is not that the products sold here are
compliant with quality and safety standards. Rather, we have yet to
develop an effective system for monitoring the quality and safety of
products being sold in the market. Moreover, despite the passage of
multifarious laws and administrative regulations on consumer
protection, they are not being strictly enforced. Thus, many
substandard and potentially dangerous products proliferate and
consumer complaints about them simply fall between the cracks.
principle, this should not be the case because in the Philippines,
the doctrine of strict liability applies to manufacturers, producers
and importers of consumer goods. Specifically, Republic Act No. 7394,
otherwise known as the Consumer Act of the Philippines, expressly
provides that "(a)ny Filipino or foreign manufacturer, producer
and any importer shall be liable for redress, independently of
fault, for damages caused to consumers by defects resulting from
design, manufacture, construction, assembly and erection formulas and
handling and making up, presentation or packing of their products, as
well as for the insufficient or inadequate information on the use and
hazards thereof" (Art. 97; italics supplied).
the very wording of the law, a consumer who sustains damage or injury
because of a defective product need not prove fault on the part of
the manufacturer, producer or importer in order to recover damages.
He needs only establish that the product is defective or unreasonably
dangerous and that he suffered damage as a result of the defect or
danger posed by the product.
rule on strict liability is based on the premise that as between the
consumer and the manufacturer, producer or importer, the latter is in
a better position to prevent any danger or risk that the
product may reasonably pose to end-users. Of course, the rule is not
absolute. These defenses are available to the manufacturer, producer
or importer of the item: (i) it did not place the product in the
market; (ii) although it did place the product in the market, the
same has no defect; and (iii) the consumer or third party is solely
the law clearly tilts in favor of the consumer in product liability
cases, in reality, the prevailing norm is still caveat emptor
or "let the buyer beware". Under this doctrine, the
consumer has no warranty of the quality or safety of the goods he
buys. He cannot recover from the seller or manufacturer for defects
in the product that render it unfit for ordinary purposes unless the
latter acted fraudulently or misrepresented the quality of his goods.
Thus, under the caveat emptor model, the buyer must at
all times be cautious about what he buys.
difficulty in enforcing the rule on strict product liability may be
traced to several factors. One is the complex nature of the country's
consumer market. To illustrate, consumer goods find their way to the
end-user through various levels and series of distribution channels.
While the origin of certain branded products may be easily traced
because they are manufactured and sold by reputable entities, the
same is not true for goods produced by small-scale or backyard
industries that are, more often than not, informal producers or
sellers that form part of the so-called "underground economy".
Further complicating the matter is the proliferation of smuggled and
counterfeit consumer goods. Illegally imported items, as well as fake
goods, enter the market through shady, undocumented transactions and
are, in turn, usually sold by itinerant vendors or merchants to the
unsuspecting public. Thus, if a defective, smuggled or counterfeit
item causes damage or injury to a consumer, he would not even know
whom to sue.
agencies, such as the Department of Trade and Industry, the
Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, have done
their part in promulgating the necessary rules, designating relevant
bureaus and desks, and mobilizing resources to assist in the
enforcement of consumer protection laws, much remain to be done.
Since these agencies have other administrative and regulatory
mandates, ensuring product safety is just one of their many
priorities and functions.
the ideal set-up would be to have one central regulatory body, much
like the United States Consumer Product
Safety Commission which is charged with protecting the public from
unreasonable risks of injury or death posed by defective and
potentially hazardous consumer products. With such a body focused
only on developing, reviewing and enforcing product safety standards
as well as conducting research on potential product hazards, there
will be a more proactive approach to ensuring consumer safety and
with several other problems besetting our country, the difficulty in
enforcing product safety laws lies primarily in lack of funding.
Certainly, the creation of a truly effective central consumer
product safety agency will entail substantial investments in
manpower, capital and technology. Notwithstanding this obstacle, the
public and private sectors can, working together, somehow alleviate
the risks posed by substandard and potentially hazardous consumer
products through constant monitoring, effective consumer information
campaigns and responsive mechanism for handling consumer complaints
the final analysis, the great divide between what is and what should
be in the enforcement of product safety laws can only be filled
through vigilant, proactive and cooperative efforts of market players
and relevant government agencies.