Drug and medical stores gave their commitment to the Trade department to keep the prices of N95, surgical, and other similar masks at pre-eruption level as the country faces the effects of the phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano.
Upon receipt of public reports about the rampant selling of overpriced medical masks in the market, the Department immediately mobilized monitoring teams in the affected areas of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, and Metro Manila to monitor the prices and supply of these products, including prices of basic necessities and prime commodities.
Monitoring reports revealed that N95 masks are sold at P120 up to P150 per piece while surgical masks that were priced at P1 per piece were sold at P4 per piece after the Taal eruption.
Supplies were mostly sold out due to an increase in public demand as ashfall enveloped nearby cities and provinces surrounding Taal.
“While we recognize that the N95, surgical, and other similar masks as medical supplies are under the jurisdiction of the Health department, the Trade department readily dispersed its teams to monitor the prices and supply of these masks to assist the Health department and the consumers.
We understand that its utmost priority is ensuring the lives and health safety of those who are affected by the phreatic eruption. Market surveillance and monitoring is the best form of immediate assistance that the Trade department can provide. As the President constantly underscores, A whole-of-government approach is highly necessary and called for especially during times of calamities and disasters,” said Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez.
The Trade department further clarified that these masks are neither classified as basic nor prime good under the Price Act. Therefore, these have no Suggested Retail Prices and were never part of the list of products being monitored by the Health department or any of the implementing agencies of the said law.
However, the Price Act provides that the National Price Coordinating Council in which the Trade and Health departments are part of, can recommend to the President the inclusion of these masks in the list of basic or prime goods.
When approved, the NPCC through the recommendation of the Health Department and in consultation with relevant stakeholders can set an SRP, if found necessary.
Since stocks of the medical masks are depleted, the Trade department spoke with local suppliers and major drug store chains such as Mercury Drug, Watsons, and Southstar Drug, to ensure that they immediately restock and ensure constant availability of supply in their branches, especially those located in the affected areas.
At the interim, current inventory in their branches and warehouses in non-affected areas will be distributed to their stores in CALABARZON and Metro Manila while waiting for the arrival of new stocks.
In earlier advisories, the Trade Department reminds the retailers to refrain from unreasonably increasing the prices of N95, surgical, and other similar masks.
Prices of manufactured basic and prime goods shall likewise remain unchanged as of the published 30 September 2019 DTI Suggested Retail Price Bulletin.
Those found to have committed profiteering or any form of illegal act will be filed with appropriate administrative and criminal charges and will be dealt with the fullest extent of the law.
Meanwhile, the health department said Metro Manila residents need not to buy and use N95 masks following the eruption of Taal Volcano.
The DOH lamented that “panic buying” in Metro Manila depleted the supply of face masks which are most needed by residents of Batangas, Laguna, and Cavite.
Health Sec. Francisco Duque told Metro Manila residents and those from Central Luzon can just use regular surgical masks or damp towels to protect themselves from ashfall.
He added that there is really no need for them to use N95 face masks. He said the supply of N95 can be given to people in provinces most affected by Taal volcano eruption.
These were also the same views raised by DOH Assistant Secretary Marie Francia Laxamana who said Metro Manila and Central Luzon residents can use regular surgical mask but it is not really advisable to use that N95.
“So please don’t panic,” she said.
Laxamana said the DOH has already mobilized P2.1 million logistics support for those affected by the eruption. More than P1.2 million has been allocated for N95 masks to be given to residents of high-risk areas.
She also said residents can use “improvised” masks such as moistened cloth to avoid inhaling or ingesting volcanic ash.
Aside from the spike in the cost of face masks, several drugstores and medical stores have already ran out of its supply.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said hoarders and those overpricing the price of face masks should be hanged on trees.
“Those traders who suddenly hoarded all the gas masks and then selling them for a much higher price or those who suddenly jacked up the prices should be hung on trees. On the Acacia or Narra,” he said.
“Narra so it would be sturdy; hang them there. Then blow smoke on them while they’re without gas mask,” he added.
Sotto was apparently reacting to complaints that prices of N95 masks soared up to P200 apiece from P25 to P30 apiece after heavy ash fell on Batangas areas and surrounding provinces and regions, including Metro Manila, after Taal Volcano’s phreatic eruption on January 12.
Health experts have advised the wearing of face masks, especially N95, as a precautionary measure to protect themselves from the dangers of volcanic ashfall.
Sotto, on the other hand, lauded those who are giving away face masks for free.