DTI finds 12 stores in Manila selling overpriced face masks

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The Department of Trade and Industry is filing cases against 12 stores in Bambang, Manila — a popular hub for medical supplies — caught selling overpriced and substandard N95 masks meant to protect against Taal Volcano's ashfall.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 15) — The Department of Trade and Industry said it is suing 12 medical supply stores in Manila caught selling overpriced and substandard N95 masks.

The N95 face masks have been in demand since Sunday when Taal Volcano's eruption sent a cloud of ash into the air, which later spread to nearby towns and all the way to Metro Manila.

DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said the cases have been prepared after authorities inspected establishments in Bambang. Residents flocked to the area known as the hub of medical supplies, only to learn that the price of dust masks there have skyrocketed.

"After the notice of violation, we will file charges against them. Bahala silang magdepensa ng kaso nila during the hearing," Castelo said in a Wednesday media briefing in Malacañang. " When found to really have committed profiteering, we can impose the highest penalty na ₱2 million."

READ: Duterte vows to give free masks amid reports of overpricing

Earlier, DTI and even the Manila City government have warned retailers against jacking up the prices of face masks. The Department of Health has also imposed a price freeze on these protective gear, saying the N95 mask should only cost between ₱45-₱105, while disposable surgical masks should cost a maximum of ₱8 per piece.

Castelo said businesses can only add a maximum of 10 percent to the acquisition cost for medical supplies. However, DTI's team discovered that some stores sold face masks for ₱120-₱150 each even if delivery receipts showed these cost only ₱60-₱65. Earlier reports showed that the N95 masks are being sold at ₱200 apiece after Taal's unrest.

Duterte vows to give free masks amid reports of overpricing Castelo added that DTI would also recommend that the Manila local government suspend the licenses of businesses caught overpricing N95 masks.


The Department of Health also cautioned against using substandard face masks, citing DTI's report that there were many fake N95 masks being sold to the public.

DOH Assistant Secretary Eric Domingo said N95 masks are considered as medical devices and manufacturers must be registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He added that low-quality masks discovered by DTI's monitoring team in Bambang will have to be confiscated.

"From the look, it says 'N95' na may nakatatak dapat. Rigid, they are quite thick, and they are molded talaga sa contour of the face," Domingo said when asked how to check if an N95 mask is legitimate and can protect people from the ashfall. "Kapag mukhang duda kayo na masyadong malambot or manipis, at hindi talaga maganda ang contour sa face, then that's probably a falsified product or a counterfeit."

[Translation: By looking at it, an N95 masks should have that label printed on it. It should be rigid, quite thick, and molded to the contour of the face. If you think it's too soft or paper thin and the contour doesn't fit well, it's probaby a falsified or counterfeit product.]

READ: No need to use N95 masks in Metro Manila – Health Department official

Those caught selling counterfeit masks will face administrative charges from the FDA, as well as from the DTI.

"These people are taking advantage of the situation, the difficulty being experienced by consumers now, so consumers will not have a choice but will have to buy the N95 regardless of price," she said.

Castelo also encouraged residents to submit complaints with receipts to the DTI to prove that they have been overcharged for their masks.