E-COMMERCE company Shopee Philippines said it is working with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to remove overpriced N95 and N88 masks from its platform.

DTI said in a statement on Monday that Shopee was the first online shopping company to respond to a DTI request not to sell overpriced masks.

“We commend Shopee for immediately heeding our call. The cooperation of online shopping companies is very important in preventing unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of consumers for their own profit,” DTI-Consumer Protection Group Undersecretary Ruth B. Castelo said.

DTI’s Philippine International Trading Corp. has been facing difficulties in procuring face masks from overseas as local supply dwindles due to the spread of the coronavirus, leading the agency to reach out to domestic manufacturer MedTecs to increase production.

The department is now allowing a higher price ceiling of P16 for surgical masks after raw material prices rose.

The Department of Health said the suggested retail price of N95 masks is P45 to P105 each.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez last week said e-commerce sites face a P300,000 fine if they carry overpriced masks.

In its statement Monday, DTI said Shopee has been monitoring sellers of overpriced masks on its platform to ensure they comply with the price recommendations of the Department of Health.

“The DTI is calling on the rest of the online shopping companies to follow suit. With confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the country, consumer demand rose for N95 and N88 masks,” DTI said.

“Having low to no stocks of masks in physical retail stores, e-Commerce platforms have become the alternative for consumers, making the cooperation between government and online retailers more crucial in ensuring public access to reasonably-priced basic essential medical supplies in the market.”

The World Health Organization recently said that masks are not always useful to protect members of the public who are healthy, and priority should be given to health workers and those who are sick. — Jenina P. Ibañez