DTI, local handicraft makers seek to strengthen abaca facemask industry

As the community quarantine stretches into its fourth month, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and local handicraft makers are strengthening efforts to manufacture reusable abaca facemasks to take advantage of the high demand and help ensure public safety against the coronavirus disease.

The DTI Catanduanes provincial office recently unveiled plans to expand production of the handmade abaca facemasks in the province as a necessity during the pandemic.

In a recent meeting, members of the Provincial Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise Development Council (PMSMED) have decided to temporarily cease work on their usual product lines in order to focus on and speed up the production of abaca facemasks.

“Dai man gabenta an ibang products alog nin furniture kasi dai man kaipuhan nin tawo. Specially ta naapektuhan ang income sources dahil sa COVID-19, ang priority ngunyan food asin medical supplies,” said Senior Trade and Industry Development Specialist Daisy Tabirara in an interview with the provincial government’s information unit.

The meeting also discussed partnerships with the private sector to help the facemask production to become more efficient.

“An PLDC, nag-commit sinda na ma-supply sa Ody’s Homecraft ng abaca fiber. An TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) man may sewing machines na pwede ipasubri sa mga mananahi nita,” Tabirara disclosed.

The DTI believes that the mass production of abaca facemasks will have a positive effect on the province’s economy, being the number one producer of abaca fiber in the country and in the world.

“Kapag naging wide-scale na ang production asin gapaladakula na ang demand, mas dakol ang people na mahi-hire, so mabo-boost ang income sources ng bawat saro,” she said.

Last June, reusable abaca handmade paper facemasks designed and fabricated by handicraft makers and dressmakers in the province became trending on Faceboo.

According to Teresita Sebastian, proprietor of Ody’s Homecraft, she did not expect that orders and queries would pour in on the same day that she posted pictures of her product on social media.

“Dai talaga akong plano kaan maggibo. Ngudi, ‘pag luwas sa Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), sunod-sunod na. Facebook, Messenger, messages, pagkadinakol,” she revealed when asked how her company began producing the facemasks.

She added that when their facemasks gained a following, they have accepted many orders, with more then 500 of them bought.

Sebastian is just waiting for the delivery of four (4) sewing machines worth P6,000 each which they will distribute to sewers who will help boost the production of facemasks. Ody’s Homecraft will also supply the, with the required abaca paper.

“Ang salong makina, sa sarong factory worker sa Simamla, igwa man akong ipasubrian sa Valencia. Basta gabos na papel, hari samuya,” she bared. “Hands-on ako sa paggibo asin pagbanlaw nin papel ta mabusisi ‘yan.”

The entrepreneur admitted that each facemask is priced at a low P18 per piece to encourage resellers and give them a chance to earn income.

“An reason ko, para magkaigwa nin resellers, para yung mga tawong dai nin trabaho, magkaigwa nin hanapbuhay,” Sebastian stressed. “Iabot ‘ta sa pinakahababang presyo para maabot din ng iba.”

On the other hand, the Philippine Fiber Development Authority (PhilFIDA) disclosed that there is continuous farming and production of abaca in Catanduanes until now.

According to Eligio Sabalas, there is enough abaca fiber in the province to supply all handicraft makers engaged in facemask production.

Meanwhile, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Catanduanes provincial office belied reports that the filtering capacity of abaca facemasks from Mindanao is seven times more effective tyan that of medical-grade masks like surgical and N95 masks.

Science Research Specialist Engr. Marie Grace Molina said that DOST Region X did only microscopy and laboratory-modified water drop tests, which are not enough to determine the filtration efficiency of handmade abaca facemasks.

“Hindi siya enough na study or laboratory test to claim na ‘yung handmade abaca paper mask is seven times better,” Molina averred.

She quoted the results of the simple water drop test that indicated the abaca facemasks are not water repellent. In the laboratory-modified water drop test, the water absorbency ng surgical mask (0.17 percent) was much lower compared to that of handmade abaca facemask (3-5 percent).

“Ang conclusion ng study, nag-absorb yung abaca handmade paper ng 3-5 percent while N95 mask, 46 percent. However, yung surgical mask, absorbed 0.17 percent. Pinakamababa ang absorption capacity ng surgical mask,” Molina added.

While the DOST specialist admits abaca has great potential as a facemask, there is a need to conduct more research and tests to prove that the product is medical-grade according to established standards and parameters.

“If we are going to explore the potentials of the abaca handmade paper mask, we have to set parameters, and exact specifications ng papel. Mas maganda if we can have our products tested sa DOST-PTRI (DOST-Philippine Textile Research Institute),” mungkahi ni Molina.

Both the DTI and Ody’s Homecraft agree with the DOST’s suggestion and is considering the use of abaca fiber itself, not the skin of the trunk, as material for abaca paper.

The enterprise is ready to cooperate with DOST to test its products for the safety of those who will use it.

“May nag-order sako na taga-Dubai. Dai man garing makapadala kasi daing papers na maipe-present na medically approved ang masks nita,” Sebastian said.

For now, the DOST advises the public to wear the abaca facemasks at their own risk until it can be proven that the facemasks made from abaca is really medical-grade.

“While we are earning, let us not forget na public health ang nakasalalay dito. I-standardize natin, then kapag okay na talaga siya, we will, of course, support the industry,” Molina stressed. (Provincial Government of Catanduanes/PIU)

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