THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said Thursday it will seek amendments to the Price Act to upgrade the prescribed fines for price manipulation and other violations.
Trade Undersecretary Ruth B. Castelo said at a Senate hearing that fines prescribed by the law, ranging from P5,000 to P2 million, are sufficient to deter violations.
“Hindi natatakot ang tao (People are not daunted) because they can always pay P10,000 and then commit the violation again, especially big retail stores,” Ms. Castelo said.
The Department recommended a minimum fine of P50,000 and the maximum to P2 million for price manipulation and P3 million for violating price ceilings.
Republic Act No. 7851 currently penalizes individuals found guilty of hoarding, profiteering and cartel activity with five to 15 years’ imprisonment plus a fine of between P5,000 and P2 million.
Violators of price ceilings are currently liable to be sentenced to one to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of between P5,000 and P1 million.
Ms. Castelo said there may be a need to reconsider the suggested retail price (SRP) and make it mandatory to allow the DTI to apprehend retailers selling above the SRP.
The law “does not give us authority to apprehend, penalize or catch violators,” she said.
“We don’t know if we need to change the term suggested or make it mandatory at least for basic and prime goods.”
The committee was tackling Senate Bill No. 1454, which seeks to expand coverage of goods that are subject to automatic price controls, to include personal protective equipment and medical devices.
The bill also proposes to consider an epidemic, pandemic or any form of public health emergency as among the conditions that would trigger automatic price controls.
Ms. Castelo proposed to include other basic commodities in preparation for disasters that may hit the country. She also proposed to include prime commodities to those subject to automatic price controls.
She said a new crisis may erupt which will force further amendments. “In preparation for the big one, ‘yung mga emergency na darating sana (and other emergencies that may take place) we’ll be ready,” she said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan