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DTI eyes sanctions vs 12 Bambang stores selling overpriced N95 masks

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At least 12 medical supply stores along Bambang Street in Sta. Cruz, Manila were issued notices of violation for selling overpriced N95 masks, according to the Department of Trade (DTI).

DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said the allowable price range for N95 masks is only at PHP45 to PHP105, based on the standard retail price (SRP) bulletin for medicines and medical supplies released by the Department of Health (DOH) on their Facebook page.

However, reports showed that some traders and retailers have been selling N95 masks from P200 to P400 due to the increased demand following advisories to wear it as protection from ashfall caused by Taal Volcano' eruption.

“Any centavo higher than the price ceiling imposed by DOH would be an offense already,” Castelo said in a press briefing in Malacañang, warning traders that they may face administrative or criminal charges for their violations.

“We have concrete evidence against them. So we just wish to warn the other sellers, we will not stop looking at them and running after them especially that we know these people are taking advantage of the people,” she added.

Castelo said after issuing notices of violation, the agency will issue formal charges against the 12 medical supply stores in Bambang.

Under the Price Act or Republic Act 7581, penalties for overpricing or price manipulation range from PHP5,000 to PHP2 million.

An automatic price freeze took effect in Batangas when it was placed under a state of calamity.

The price freeze will last for the duration of the condition that brought about it, but not for more than 60 days, or unless the President removes it sooner.

She, meanwhile, asked the public to report overpricing and price manipulation to the DTI.

Low-quality N95 masks

Aside from overpriced N95 masks, Castelo also warned against “low-quality” masks which are not advisable to use.

DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo said N95 masks, registered as a medical device, should follow certain standards.

Domingo said medical inspectors have been dispatched to check and confiscate N95 masks which are registered under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

He said the FDA may also file charges against traders and retailers selling substandard N95 masks on top of charges which may be filed under the Consumer Act of the Philippines or Republic Act 7394. Violators will be fined from PHP500 to PHP10,000 or be imprisoned from five months to a year.

“If it’s a registered product, kumpleto yung documents including kung ano yung contents niya (it has complete documents including its contents), how it was made, and then the filtration effect of that particular product,” Domingo said.

To check if N95 masks are FDA-registered, Domingo said they are rigid, thick, and molded for the contour of the face. N95 masks which too thin are falsified or counterfeit products.

Domingo, however, said that only drug stores and not medical supply stores are licensed by the FDA.

“Kung drug store siya (If it’s a drug store) and it has a license to operate from FDA that means they’re responsible for selling only licensed products. Pag nakita natin na nagbebenta sila ng (If we see that they are selling) unlicensed or substandard products then we can file administrative complaints against them including revocation of their license to operate,” Domingo said.

Medical supply stores, on the other hand, have to secure business permits from local government units before they are allowed to operate.

The DTI has also prepared a list of stores caught profiteering that it will recommend to the local government of Manila for suspension of business licenses.

Since Taal started spewing ash on Sunday, at least 105 patients have been admitted in hospitals in Batangas Medical Center, Ospital ng Tagaytay, DOH hospitals and LGU hospitals, Domingo said.

Currently, 16 patients remain confined while most of the patients have been discharged and are being treated as outpatients.

Most common causes for admission include hypertension, pulmonary complaints such as cough, asthma, bronchitis, and fever.

DOH has augmented the medical resources in Regions 4-A and 3, he added. 

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