The Trade Department sent a team of field agents Monday to verify reports that retailers were overcharging for face masks in Metro Manila and in provinces affected by the Taal volcano ashfall. Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said reports have reached his office that some retailers have jacked up their prices for face and gas masks, taking advantage of the surge in demand for these products due to the recent ash fall from Taal Volcano.
The field agents will monitor and observe the movement of retail prices in the market and report cases of abusive or predatory pricing, he said.
The department also announced that prices of manufactured basic necessities and prime commodities will remain unchanged as of the published Sept. 31, 2019 Suggested Retail Price (SRP) Bulletin.
The price freeze includes convenience stores within the calamity-stricken areas.
Prices of basic goods being sold in these stores must be frozen at their prevailing prices.
Under normal circumstances, 24-hour convenience stores may price basic necessities and prime commodities at 10 percent to 15 percent higher than the SRP to compensate for their higher costs.
The department said it would not hesitate to file administrative and criminal charges against unscrupulous businessess and individuals who capitalize on the consumers’ urgent need for their own profit.
Under the law, penalties for violation of the price freeze include the imposition of a fine of P5,000 up to P1 million and/or imprisonment from one to 10 years.
On Monday, the Department of Health (DOH) said protection kits such as N95 masks and eye drops will be provided to residents of areas that are affected by Taal Volcano’s phreatic eruptions.
Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo told GMA News it would supply P1.5 million worth of protection kits in the Calabarzon area.
Domingo said the DOH will coordinate with municipal and city health officers in high-risk areas for the distribution of the items.
Senator Nancy Binay, meanwhile, urged the DOH to include face masks in relief packages to be distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and affected local government units.
Stores in Metro Manila and nearby provinces had reportedly run out of stock of face masks, particularly of the recommended N95 variety, as early as Sunday evening.
“The DOH should prioritize the immediate distribution of masks and medicines to protect our people,” Binay said.
She said that children and those with respiratory and other health conditions should be given priority.
Binay added that the government should enlist the help of the private sector in procuring masks as well as other supplies that would protect citizens in affected areas.
The senator also blasted traders who were taking advantage of the situation.
Binay also reminded the public that N95 masks are not the only masks effective against ash fall.
She also asked people to stay indoors, especially since work and classes have been suspended.