DTI limits basic good purchases, penalizes hoarding with 15-year jail time, P2M fine
Grocery shoppers who fill up to five carts with toilet paper, alcohol bottles and other necessities now face fines and jail time as the government’s campaign against hoarding takes an aggressive turn in the middle of a Luzon-wide quarantine against COVID-19.
The Department of Trade and Industry released a memorandum circular on Thursday (March 19) limiting the volume of items that shoppers can buy at grocery stores or supermarkets.
The memo came nearly a week after the shaky start of an enhanced community quarantine that induced panic-buying and saw kilometric queues of consumers anxious to get their hands on food and other items.
The circular limits each consumer to only a week’s worth of supplies and lists down the amount of items that each consumer can buy per trip to the store.
It ensures enough supply for everyone.
For example, a person can buy only two bottles of alcohol regardless or five pieces of face masks for every transaction.
Anyone caught violating the circular would be fined from P5,000 to P2 million and imprisoned for 5 to 15 years for hoarding, as provided by the Price Act.
The circular said retailers should post notices in their stores which everyone can see and serve as a reminder of the purchase limits.
Some local government units — such as Pasig City and Valenzuela City — have already issued similar ordinances, but the DTI circular carried harsher penalties for violators.
The ordinances, for example, would cancel business permits, slap a fine of at most P3,000, or require hours of community service.
DTI’s penalties were harsher despite the fact that, as many would attest, people only resorted to panic-buying because the government was unclear on its messaging about the quarantine.
President Rodrigo Duterte did not announce at the start that there would be a stable supply of groceries and other basic necessities during the quarantine in Metro Manila.
Copies of the quarantine resolution were leaked and circulated online even before the official announcement, prompting people from all walks of life to interpret the rumor the way they see fit.
When the quarantine was enhanced and expanded to the rest of Luzon, the government exempted supermarkets but suspended public transportation, fueling fears that basic supplies might suffer a shortage.
An employee in a small supermarket in Quezon City recalled how the store suddenly had too many costumers the day after Duterte’s live press conference about COVID-19.
“It happened after the speech. Before the speech, there weren’t that many people,” the employee said.
“But in the morning after, we were already full. At some point, we had to close the entrance,” she said.
The employee, representing management, only agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity.
The supermarket is not part of any popular retail chain in Metro Manila. Instead, it caters mostly to low-income consumers.
The demand was overwhelming. Alcohol bottles vanished the moment a new batch was delivered, and even before they were displayed on the shelves.
They also ran out of noodles, canned goods, and sardines, to the point that consumers bought everything and anything — even the less known brands that would hardly sell under normal circumstances.
A number of factors likely caused the recent cases of panic buying, which drove people to ultimately look after themselves at a time when they should be looking after the needs of the whole community.
According to sociologist Athena Presto, one of these factors could be traced back to how Duterte held one of his earlier press conferences about COVID-19, a critical moment that was supposed to reassure the public.
“The way that this assurance was communicated was not something that was understood and was trusted by people. I myself didn’t see any assurance,” she said in a phone interview.
She said it was the general distrust in the government, from the way it communicates to the public to doubts that the daily count of infected individuals does not represent the real scale of the outbreak in the country.
This goes on top of a system in Filipino culture that favors the competitive, she said, wherein you would likely get what you need if you get it yourself.
Although everyone had been warned against panic buying because there was ample supply, it’s hard not to when everyone else is already doing it.
“The thing with these kinds of crisis, it messes up with social norms,” said Presto, an instructor at the Sociology Department of the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
“If it’s being done by the majority of the population, usually [people think] it’s the thing that should be done. [They think] it’s the right thing,” she added.
Edited by TSB
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