Sunday, April 3, 2011

PART 2 of 2: ‘THE INNOVATIVE TAHO VENDOR’ ― A PHILIPPINE ANTITRUST STORY



Part 1 is here.

Now let us continue...


Soon after, Nicodemus was being charged for tax evasion. But as far as he knew, he had paid his taxes properly. As much as he hated doing so, he did not want to get on the wrong side of the law. But according to the agency, he had neglected to declare an additional P200,000 in income over the past year. He got a lawyer, and, by the time the charges were dropped for lack of merit, he had paid his laywer about P75,000, even more than he had allegedly evaded in taxes.



All of the proceedings had set him back a great deal, and it seemed he would have to raise prices to keep things in operation. This would potentially scare off customers, but he saw no other way. Surprisingly, the number of customers stayed about the same, a month later.

“We couldn’t let them do that to you, Mang Nicodemus,” a young teenage girl said. Others expressed the same sentiment. He didn’t even know he was the talk of the town, much less sympathized with. Soon enough, he was able to bring his prices down again, and began earning once more.

But his woes were not yet over. Senator C___ and Congressman Z___ were busy making appeals to get Congress to pass a new a law against ‘anti-competitive’ practices. Its scope would cover Nicodemus’ enterprise. Despite Congress’ general snail pace with legislation, the Business Connivance Act (BCA) was passed in six months, and enacted into law a month later.

Soon enough, Nicodemus was banned from selling at his low price, from buying his soy stock from his suki, and from selling his five varieties of taho (“You have to choose one,” said a Trade official). Furthermore, he had to let go of his two assistants, and eventually, Make Taho! on the hill. He was back to his two pails, and after careful thought, left with just his Choc-Nut taho. Even then, with the Choc-Nut taho remaining a favorite, the Trade official had to go back to Nicodemus and reprimand him, after which Choc-Nut was removed from the taho syrup.



It was later a common sigh of the town’s residents. “I miss that taho house up the hill. Too bad it’s now illegal.”

Most union vendors rejoiced that they could go back to the way things were. However, there were a couple of vendors who, although having been forced to look for work elsewhere due to Nicodemus’ past success, looked back and felt sorry for him. One remarked: “He had his heart in the right place. And even if we pretend he didn’t care about his customers, he gave them what they wanted. He was good at giving them that.”

It can be surmised that not just innovative taho vendors but other brilliant merchants, rich and poor, suffered the same fate as Nicodemus. It was a sad time for many customers, but a time of rejoicing for the less capable businessmen and employees, not to mention the politicians who got their vote for the next election.



A week or so after Nicodemus’ return to street-vending, he saw Mang Humphrey, who had removed his langka-nata de coco formula from his syrup, as a precaution.

“I was so proud of you. I still am. But that’s how the law is, what can you do?”

“I think I’ve had enough of taho vending. The enjoyment’s no longer there. It would have been better never to have gone off with my crazy dream. I wouldn’t know the joy of doing something I loved so much, something that the people seemed to appreciate.”

“But I know you. You’re going to get past this hump. Remember, I saw potential in you.”

“And look what happened to me! I’m sorry. I guess I should return to the farm.”

“You do that. Just take a break for a while. You deserve it. Keep your head up.”

“I will.” Then Nicodemus grinned. “Tsk. No dream girl.”



Back in the province, Nicodemus tilled the soil as he used to do regularly five or so years ago. He missed the city life, but welcomed the change of pace here. And then it came to him. He had always lamented the inefficiency of the irrigation system. Too much water used up. Too little ground covered. Too little time. But now, he had an idea. Something that may very well save them thousands of pesos a month... increase the area being used... perhaps double their harvests...

“I’ve got it!”

*

AFTERWORD

I don’t know anything about making taho, and I know less about the taho vending industry in the Philippines ― of the significance of unions, the manner by which uniformity of products comes about, etc. So allow me some literary slack.

I wrote the preceding short story back in April 2009, as part of an as-yet unpublished work of fiction. Hope you found it amusing.

The actual business world is replete with cronies and lobbyists. Much of the ‘anti-competitive’ practices that benefit customers are not done by meek, innocent guys like Mang Nicodemus, but by shrewd suck-ups to the bureaucracy. But it is hoped that the reader has enough sense to distinguish coercive acts, such as the proposed Philippine antitrust law, from the non-coercive.

For a short, non-fictionalized discussion of antitrust, see this section of my 2009 book. I also have earlier articles on the PLDT buyout of Digitel-Sun:

3 comments:

Nonoy Oplas said...

good one, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Paul, is not at least some regulation necessary. Such as the DTI protecting one's trade name?

What if the Taho, union or not, guys started opening locations using the name "Make Taho"?

What could the original and true owner do to stop them?

The writer of this blog said...

It's not very feasible in the first place to base one's business on copying more successful names. If you put up a McDonald's, how soon do you think people will wise up? Not long enough for a copycat to be successful, I'm sure.

But how about where a big company intentionally misrepresents a smaller threat? Not a very prudent or cost-efficient strategy either, if the field is constantly open to competition.

But also check out my other entry, the section on 'Redefining regulation.' Let's not confuse the need for a service, with the need for a coercive monopoly to provide the service.

I don't know about you, but as a consumer, and producer, I'd rather have a choice among competing private regulators as to quality assurance and accurate company representation. Surely better than the status quo.