When things work well—or don’t

By: Cielito F. Habito - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | December 15,2020 - 08:00 AM

It’s a lot easier to write on things that go wrong “only in da Pilipins,” as they say—be it traffic, shoddy public services, sadistic government processes, inept or corrupt public “servants,” or what have you. But once in a while, things do work as they should, evoking in us feel-good sentiments that there’s hope for our beloved Philippines. A few nights ago, we lost power in our street in Los Baños at around 1:20 a.m. I could tell it was localized, as neighboring streets were lit up. I took it as a signal to stop working and go to bed, counting on neighbors to call Meralco to report it. It turned out that my son-in-law downstairs was in a crucial meeting with people on the other side of the globe, and was desperate. I thus called the Meralco hotline some 20 minutes later, and luckily got to a customer service agent without having to wait on hold (it was 1:42 a.m., after all!). She told me to expect action in 2-4 hours. Yet just 39 minutes later, a service crew called me to ask directions, then promptly found the busted transformer that caused our outage. Half an hour later, power was back, and my American son-in-law, impressed, was able to resume his meeting.

Our problem was fixed barely over an hour from my hotline call. This wasn’t the first such incident for us. Eight years ago, on the night of Dec. 31, we and three other neighbors lost power after an overhead power line shorted and caught fire. We had resigned ourselves to a dark and dreary welcome for the new year, expecting no service crews to be at work on New Year’s Eve. But to our pleasant surprise, they came and fixed it all within an hour from my hotline call. Yes, some things can feel “First World,” even “in da Pilipins.”

Too bad I couldn’t say the same about telecoms giant PLDT. Weeks ago, our internet connection started going off and on throughout the day, sometimes off a few minutes, sometimes hours, and eventually was gone completely. I knew it wasn’t area-wide as my next-door neighbors said their PLDT internet was normal. I was sure it wasn’t within our internal connections, which had been working well as we recently had it rewired.

It was mid-November when I called the PLDT hotline, which, as has consistently been my experience, entailed waiting idly for over an hour in a holding queue. I filed my report, received a “ticket number,” and was told to expect resolution in 4 to 6 days—already far longer than Meralco’s promised 2-4 hours, which turns out to be a liberal estimate. But PLDT’s 4-6 days was a gross underestimate. More than two weeks passed with no action, even as I made another call a week later to follow up on my ticket number, again waiting on hold for an hour. Once, my hopes ran high as I chanced upon a service crew working on our street. But when I asked if they were there to respond to my service request, they said no, they were there to install capacity for new lines for future customers!

Here they were, working on getting new customers for PLDT to treat shabbily as many complain they do, rather than put priority on fixing the line of an aggrieved decades-long customer! The men ignored my pleas to have a quick look at the stretch of optic fiber leading to our gate, which I understood, as it was not in their mission for the day. Still, I somehow hoped they’d make a kind gesture given my long-standing service ticket, especially as I was so sure ours was a simple loose connection that’s easy to fix.

It wasn’t until I reached out to a retired high PLDT official, who still got his former colleagues to give our case preferential attention, that the problem finally got addressed. I’m privileged to have someone like him to call for help, but what of countless others who don’t? And my suspicion proved correct; our problem took less than 15 minutes to fix, which we waited nearly three weeks to finally happen. Will we be refunded for the nonservice we got for most of November? I’m not betting on it, given what too many customers feel is a lopsided relationship with this business giant. Little wonder that an angry mayor recently summoned the company’s officials to explain shoddy service.

Alas, back to the Third World.

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