– with Victor Reyes and Ashzel Hachero
GOING into the second week of the enhanced community quarantine due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Department of Health is reiterating its warning to unscrupulous individuals hoarding drugs, medicines, and other medical supplies.
“Persons found liable for the said acts shall be strictly dealt with,” said the DOH in Department Circular No. 2020-0144 which also said “hoarding of drugs and medicines, profiteering, illegal combination, formation of cartels, and all other acts committed in restraint of trade during the COVID-19 situation” are punishable under Section 24 of R.A. 9502 or the “Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008.”
The DOH also urged the public to buy only a reasonable quantity of drugs, medicines, and supplies, in consideration of everyone in the community.
“This is to avoid shortages and hindrance of the flow of medical and drug supplies to every person in need,” said the DOH.
Since the start of the enhanced community quarantine on March 15, there have been reports of shortage in medicines like vitamins, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, as well as hygiene materials such as alcohol.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warned the public against online stores selling drugs, medicines, and medical supplies that are not registered with the agency.
The FDA said it has received reports of hand sanitizers, antiseptics, antibacterials, and other toxic chemicals — which are unregistered — being sold in online stores like Marketplace of Facebook, Lazada, and Shoppee, among others.
“Promotional marketing schemes, including the display of FDA logo on their products and the use of statements such as, but not limited to, ‘The product is registered/notified with FDA,’ ‘Buy 1 Take 1,’ and/or ‘With Limited Stocks,’ are abused to attract customers during this time of public health emergency,” said the FDA.
A Chinese man and two female cohorts were arrested Saturday night in Pasay City for selling overpriced face masks.
Nabbed by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group were Wang Yongyi, a retired Chinese businessman; Caroline Cheng Lee, a supervisor at a marketing company; and Bernadette Santos.
Police said the three were arrested by members of the CIDG’s Detective and Special Operations Unit and Anti-Fraud and Commercial Crime Unit in Protacio street in Barangay 97 at around 7 p.m.
“The three were apprehended in an entrapment operation for selling overpriced surgical or disposable face masks online,” the CIDG in a statement.
The three reportedly sold a box of 50 face masks for P1,700 or P34 each, which is beyond the suggested retail price of P1,400 per box or P28 per face mask, set by the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Health.
Seized during the operation were 5,110 boxes of face masks worth P8.68 million.
On Friday and earlier Saturday, CIDG operatives arrested 30 persons selling overpriced face masks, alcohols and sanitizers in series of operations in Manila, Isabela, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, and Misamis Oriental.
The operations in Manila and Iligan City also resulted in the seizure of P4.2 million worth of face masks, alcohol, and sanitizers.
The National Bureau of Investigation on Sunday announced the creation of a task force to go after hoarders of basic commodities.
NBI OIC Eric Distor said the task force will also go after those overpricing their products and online sellers of overpriced items.
“We have the capability and our agents on the ground have the skills to go after them. We will find you” Distor said.
On Saturday, operatives of the NBI-Special Action Unit raided a number of stores in Manila and Rizal for selling overpriced items.
Seized in the Manila operation were 1,360 units of thermal scanners and 7,680 face masks worth more some P10 million.
“They are selling thermal scanners for P8, 000 per piece which is eight times higher than the normal price of P1, 000,” he said.