THE high demand for surgical masks has led to unscrupulous vendors selling useless paper masks and some pharmacies overpricing their stock.
A surprise inspection conducted on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 by representatives of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Health (DOH), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Cebu City Government showed that at least five vendors along Leon Kilat St. were selling masks made out of paper that were deemed not just “useless” but unsafe.
“It’s unsafe because we don’t know where they got it because it has no cover when it was sold. It has no label where it came from,” said City Market Administrator Jonil Matuguina.
He said paper masks were incapable of protecting anyone from acquiring disease because they had no filter unlike
Operatives from the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) who accompanied the inspection team immediately confiscated the paper masks.
CIDG 7 chief Police Major Edwin Lacostales explained that sidewalk vendors are prohibited from selling surgical masks because they do not have a permit from the FDA.
“We are not sure if those face masks passed quality tests. Only those with an FDA permit can sell,” said Lacostales in Cebuano.
In defense, the vendors told the inspection team that the masks were only left there by sellers who contacted them to ask for help in selling the merchandise.
As the demand for surgical masks continues, the team again checked on pharmacies Thursday, amid reports of overpricing.
Four of the pharmacies inspected by the team in downtown Cebu City also said they had run out of stocks but promised to replenish their supplies as soon as their order from the supplier arrives.
Matuguina said pharmacies, stores and even ambulant vendors caught overpricing surgical masks will face sanctions.
Matuguina noted that alhough most pharmacies complied with the suggested retail price (SRP) for regular masks of P8 per piece, three were issued a notice to explain for selling the masks by up to 30 percent more than the SRP.
This brings to 10 the number of pharmacies being investigated by the DTI for alleged overpricing of their surgical masks.
On Jan. 31, the City endorsed the names of seven pharmacies to the DTI for investigation after noting a drastic rise in the prices of regular masks and N95 masks sold in these pharmacies located in downtown Cebu.
Out of the seven, only three have, so far, responded to the DTI’s show cause order.
“One of the pharmacies said the mask the customer bought was not the usual surgical face mask but the one with the filter so it was pricier than normal,” DTI 7 Consumer Protection Division chief Ines Cajegas told SunStar Cebu.
“The other pharmacy said they had to fetch their mask supplies from the airport so there was an additional cost, while the third one alleged they didn’t know the price ceiling for the masks,” Cajegas added.
The DTI also confiscated 550 surgical masks from ambulant sellers near a mall on Colon St. which were sold for higher than the base price of P2 to P8 set by the DTI for regular masks. The SRP for N95 masks is P105 per piece.
“The problem with these ambulant vendors is they’re here today and gone tomorrow. You can’t really trace them because another vendor will replace them,” Cajegas said.
According to the DTI, vendors sold masks at different prices depending on the time of day: P10 in the morning, P20 beginning 6 p.m. to as much as P50 at night.
She urged consumers to scrutinize the quality of their masks. The masks should be able to provide adequate protection from viruses.
Meanwhile, out of 10 pharmacies contacted by the DTI 7, only two had masks that were readily available for the public: Watsons Emall along Natalio Bacalso Ave. in downtown Cebu City and SouthStar pharmacy at Robinsons Cybergate near Fuente Osmeña in the uptown district.
“What’s good about these pharmacies is that aside from committing to our Trade Secretary to provide masks to the people, they have also lowered their prices because instead of P8, Watsons Emall, for example, is selling it for only P5,” Cajegas said.
Since the DTI 7 released its hotline numbers to the public, Cajegas said they have been receiving calls daily from consumers complaining about overpriced masks.
Earlier, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella warned business establishments of closure if they are found overpricing surgical masks, a vital protective gear amid fears arising from three recently confirmed cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) in the Philippines. (JJL, JOB, BBT/ RHB)