Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo urged Congress yesterday to exempt facemasks, sanitizers and similar protective goods from import duties and local taxes amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) threat.

Castelo, who is vice chairperson of the House committee on Metro Manila development, said exempting facemasks and other products like antiseptics from taxes could “assure adequate supply, stabilize prices and avoid hoarding at this time of crisis.”

“We should tell the public the situation exactly as it is.”

She made the proposal a day after President Rodrigo Duterte, on the recommendation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque lll and Sen. Bong Go, who chairs the Senate committee on health, declared a state of public health emergency.

“Our goal is to make these currently important health products available in the market and enable consumers to buy them at cost,” she said.

Castelo said there is a need to flood the market with these goods so prices would go down and unscrupulous traders would be discouraged from hoarding them and selling them later at prohibitive prices.   

She said while the measure could “pinch” government revenues, “it could bolster public safety, sustain commerce and keep the economy at its feet.”   

She is formalizing her tax exemption proposal in a bill she will file this week with the House.

At the same time, Castelo urged Duque to be “more straightforward” in informing the public about COVID-19 cases.

She noted that on Friday, Duque said it was “premature” to call the coronavirus infection of a 62-year-old man in San Juan as being locally transmitted as it was “only one,” only to be declared as such by the World Health Organization just a few hours later.

Duque belatedly admitted on Saturday that it was “localized transmission.” The infected man had no history of travel outside the country.

“We should tell the public the situation exactly as it is to encourage our people to strengthen their defenses against this virus,” Castelo said.


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