The government scored a breakthrough this week against profiteering and overpricing as it shifted to higher gear its run after lawless elements amid the coronavirus pandemic which has killed and infected people in the country since COVID-19 stormed to many countries from Wuhan, China.
In the Philippines alone, more than 30, including four doctors, have died and 600 either persons under investigation or persons under monitoring.
National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents, under the Department of Justice, have arrested two individuals, including a medical practitioner, in two separate entrapment operations in Manila and Quezon City for overpricing medical supply worth P1.422 million, officials said Wednesday.
NBI Director Eric Distor identified the suspects as Richard Beloy, arrested in Manila on Monday, and Dr. Cedric Sarmiento de Castro, nabbed in Quezon City on Tuesday -- both in an entrapment operation by agents of the NBI-Special Action Unit (NBI-SAU).
De Castro is a registered Physician with the Professional Regulations Commission (PRC). He claimed being involved in fund-raising efforts that aims to help those in need.
The arrested subjects in the two operations have been charged with violation of Section 5 (2) (Profiteering) of R.A. 7581 in relation to R.A. 10623, or the Price Act of the Philippines as penalized under Section 15 in relation to DTI Memorandum Circular 20-07 dated March 19, 2020; and violation of Art. 52 (b) of R.A. 7394, or the Consumer Act of the Philippines as penalized under Art. 60 in relation to Art. 14 (7) of the Revised Penal Code.
Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said the NBI agents arrested Dr. de Castro for allegedly selling thermal scanners that were intended as donation.
The thermal scanners were reportedly given to De Castro in the form of a donation, in his capacity as chapter president of Lions Club in New Manila Quezon City.
However, the NBI-SAU apprehended the doctor after it was learned he was selling thermal scanners for the price of P9,500 each, when its suggested retail price only ranges from P800 to P1,500 in the market.
The suspect was brought to the NBI main office for processing and then before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s office for inquest proceedings.
Perete said the De Castro woud face charges of profiteering and hoarding.
Earlier on, the NBI arrested and filed charges against the owners and staff of Icon Medics Trading and Jasrich Medical Supplies and Medical Equipment caught hoarding and selling overpriced medical masks and thermal scanners.
The thermal scanners were being sold at P8,000 per piece which was eight times the original price of P1,000.
In a separate operation, four individuals were arrested on Tuesday for selling overpriced thermal scanners.
Distor said in the first operation, the NBI-SAU received an intelligence report on Monday relative to the rampant selling of overpriced gun-typed thermal scanners by Jasrich Medical Supply and Hospital Equipment store along Quiricada street, Sta. Cruz, Manila.
On the same date, the store was placed under close monitoring. Distor added that validation made by NBI-SAU revealed that the gun-type thermal scanner was being sold by said store at P7,500.00 per unit as against its actual cost of around P500.00 to P1,035.00 in the local market.
Due, however, to extreme demand caused by the recent viral infection, thermal scanners have gone scarce, Distor stressed.
Under strict orders, an entrapment operation was hatched on the same day with marked money dated, pre-marked and inserted at the bills comprising P127,500.00 for the purchase of thermal scanners.
At about 1:30 in the afternoon of the same day, after coordinating with the local PNP, NBI-SAU operatives proceeded to the said store.
A poseur-customer asked to purchase 17 units of thermal scanner for P7,500.00 each or a total of P127,500.00. After handing over the amount, the NBI operatives arrested Beloy.
In the second operation, Distor said NBI-SAU received a report relative to the alleged sale through social media of overpriced gun-type thermal scanner by De Castro, in violation of R.A. No. 7581 (The Price Act) as amended and R.A. 7394 (The Consumer Act).
An agent of the NBI acted as poseur-customer and initiated communication with the suspect, and had to use an account that is a member in the restricted Facebook group, “N95 mask surgical mask supplier”.
The poseur-customer was able to receive a reply which reads: “9,300 per unit. The communication continued and ended with an arrangement for the sale of 150 pieces of thermal scanners for P9,300.00 each, which can be picked up in the subject’s address at 95, 13th street, Mariana, Quezon City.
The suspect introduced himself as a doctor who said the thermal scanners being sold were excess of those donated to hospitals.
Accordingly, Distor said, an entrapment operation was hatched. After coordination with the local police, SAU operatives proceeded to the area and as soon as the poseur-customer handed over the entrapment money to the suspect, declared their authority and placed the suspect under arrest.
Distor stressed, “it is deeply saddening and at the same time disturbing that there are people who would be involved in such a heartless act of profiteering at a critical time such as now.”
Distor emphasized, “This is the time when people should be displaying acts of kindness in order to help each other to alleviate the struggle we have to face in fighting the dreaded disease, COVID-19, which have claimed thousands of lives throughout the globe.”
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