Profiting from people's misery
In two separate operations last Thursday in Manila and Caloocan City, the Philippine National Police arrested three persons on charges of hoarding and selling overpriced alcohol. The National Bureau of Investigation, for its part, raided a medical depot in Manila selling overpriced face masks and thermal scanners.
While businesses are not charity operations and must turn a profit to remain viable, there are ways of making a living without capitalizing on people’s suffering. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 in the country, the demand for alcohol and face masks has spiked so much that many supermarkets and drug stores ran out of supplies.
The shortages put at risk the health of doctors, nurses and other professionals at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, as well as the general public, particularly immunocompromised individuals who are most vulnerable to infection. The raids and arrest of the profiteers and hoarders can only be welcomed by the public.
There has also been a spike in demand for thermal scanners, especially with various levels of community quarantines now being imposed across the country. The lack of scanners is one of the reasons for the slow screening of motorists and commuters at checkpoints around Metro Manila. Several mayors have complained that thermal scanners are now being sold online at up to 10 times their regular price.
With the government promising the “unhampered” movement of cargo even within quarantine areas, there is no reason for supply shortages and price increases. The promise has been accompanied by the imposition of a 60-day price freeze on basic commodities.
While the public welcomes the price freeze, the devil is always in the enforcement. The Department of Trade and Industry is conducting random inspections of supermarkets, grocery stores, wet markets and other retail outlets to ensure compliance.
A price freeze is best enforced with public cooperation. The trade department is urging people to report overpricing and possible hoarding to the hotlines 1-384 or 1-DTI. Once violators are caught, the government must ensure that they face the full force of the law. Only the certainty of punishment will discourage people from profiting from other people’s misery.