By Argyll Geducos

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced that 12 out of 17 business establishments in Bambang, Manila were charged with alleged profiteering amid the increase of demand for N95 masks following the eruption of Taal Volcano.

13012020 FACE MASK SUPPLY 02 BALMORES - DTI: 12 Manila establishments charged with profiteering on N95 masks

People trooped to different medical stores in Bambang St, Manila as they try to buy face mask or N95 mask that they will use to avoid inhaling volcanic ash. Supplies of face masks ran out in many stores in Metro Manila and nearby provinces in the south as Taal Volcano in Batangas continued to spew ash. (Mark Balmores / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a press briefing in Malacañang, DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said 12 of 17 establishments they visited in Bambang were issued notices of violations for jacking up prices of masks and other medical supplies.

She said the erring businesses will be charged with administrative and criminal cases for violating the Consumer Act.

“We will file administrative and criminal charges for businesses that sell overpriced medical supplies and medicines. The public should also report such cases by sending receipts, documents to prove profiteering,” she said.

“After the notice of violation, we will issue formal charges against the medical stores in Bambang. Bahala sila mag-defend ng kaso sa hearing (It’s up to them to defend themselves in a court hearing).”

Castelo said some stores in Bambang were adding to or even doubling the price of N95 masks when the law allows only a 10 percent profit margin.

The DTI said the penalty for profiteering ranges from P5,000 to P2 million. If the erring establishments are found guilty, Castelo said the DTI can go against them for the highest amount.

Meanwhile, Castelo said they will recommend to the local government of Manila to at least suspend the medical supply stores in Bambang in order for them to learn their lesson for overpricing N95 masks.

“They are taking advantage of the difficulty consumers are facing right now, not giving consideration to the real worth of the product,” Castelo said.

According to Castelo, the DTI has dispatched inspectors to monitor the prices of N95 masks and basic goods in Metro Manila and Calabarzon after complaints by consumers about jacked-up prices.

The agency also ordered a price freeze on basic medicines and equipment, including regular masks and N95 masks. However, it cannot impose a price freeze on areas not under a state of calamity.

The DTI likewise said that big drugstores like Mercury Drug and Watsons committed to not increase prices and to constantly replenish stocks in affected areas.

President Duterte said early this week that he will set a price limit on N95 masks after hearing reports of overpriced masks.

Fake, low-quality N95 masks

Castelo, meanwhile, warned the public against fake or low-quality N95 masks in the market after discovering some of them being sold in some establishments.

“Kita mo sa material na ginamit at ‘yung itsura, probably hindi rin siya maka-save ng tao mula sa ash fall (You can see from the materials used that these will not save lives from the ash fall). The N95 mask is a registered medical device, kailangan may sinusunod na standards kasi ginagamit sa medical processes (it has to adhere to standards because it is being used in medical processes),” she said.

The Department of Health (DOH) also said they will confiscate fake N95 masks.

The DOH reminded the public that real N95 masks have ‘N95’ printed on them, and they should be thick, rigid, and contoured to cover the face.

“If it’s being sold as N95 mask but is not registered with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or is substandard, pwede silang kasuhan (they can be charged),” Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said in the same press briefing.

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