Bill seeking easier, faster online transactions pushed in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   June 10, 2020   •   535

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Wednesday said he has filed a bill seeking to make online transactions easier and faster as more Filipinos turn to the internet to conduct daily business amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In filing Senate Bill 1591 or the Internet Transactions Act, Gatchalian proposes to make buying, selling and other transactions faster, and to strengthen the country’s digital economy.

Gatchalian, the vice chairman of the Senate committee on Economic Affairs, said electronic commerce (eCommerce) provides consumers with time-saving options and access to swift delivery of goods and services.

It also presents value for money because from the seller’s perspective, set-up costs are lower and operating costs are kept at a minimum, he added.

Hence, it is paramount to enact a law that will resolve key concerns in the country’s eCommerce industry such as lack of trust; internet infrastructure; logistics infrastructure; payment mechanisms; lack of governing entity at the regional level that can fight cybercrime and settle cross-border disputes; difficulty in the process of returning product; taxation; and online consumer complaints.

The senator said the measure will pave the way for the establishment of a singular office that will carry out provisions of the bill, ensure the implementation of Republic Act 8792 or the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000, and be the focal point in the monitoring and implementation of the Philippine eCommerce roadmap.

“Kaakibat ng isang masigla, matatag, at tuloy-tuloy na pag-unlad ng eCommerce sa bansa ang pagkakaroon ng isang batas na poprotekta sa interes ng bawat Pilipinong mamimili at mangangalakal,” Gatchalian said in a statement.

“Ako’y naniniwala na napapanahon na upang magkaroon tayo ng batas na magbibigay solusyon sa mga isyu at problema ukol sa industriya ng eCommerce,” he added.

Gatchalian admits that the Philippines’ e-commerce is still at its developing stage despite the country’s estimated 76 million active internet users and high internet penetration rate, longer hours spent daily on the internet, and very high social media penetration for population aged 13+.

Citing a study by Google and Temasek, the senator said the Philippine internet economy posted a Gross Merchandise Value of $7 billion in 2019. The value pales in comparison with those of Malaysia ($11 billion), Vietnam ($12 billion), Singapore ($12 billion), Thailand ($16 billion), and Indonesia ($40 billion).

The country’s eCommerce market remains at 1.6% of GDP.

Gatchalian pushes for business loan program to curb joblessness amid pandemic

Robie de Guzman   •   July 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Wednesday called on the government to carry out a subsidy program that will help curb the rising unemployment rate in the country brought about by the ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Gatchalian, the vice chairman of the Senate committee on economic affairs, suggested for the government to adopt a subsidy program similar to the Paycheck Protection program of the United States to prevent further lay-offs amid the public health crisis.

He said the Paycheck Protection Program is designed to provide incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.

Under this setup, business owners can get full loan forgiveness as an incentive as long as the funds are used for eligible expenses.

This way, the company gets to retain its employees while maintaining its operations.

Gatchalian believes that if this program will be included in the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, dubbed as the Bayanihan Law 2, it will significantly help employees and companies.

“Marami talagang kumpanya na nagda-downsize at sigurado akong mas marami pa ang mawawalan ng trabaho. Tiyak babalik din sila sa gobyerno, sa LGU o sa national government. Hindi na yan kakayanin ng gobyerno. Babalik at babalik sila sa gobyerno para humingi ng suporta,” he said.

“A Paycheck Protection Program-like subsidy will hit two birds with one stone. You secure the tenure of employees and at the same time you generate the economic side,” he added.

The government has implemented the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) program, which provides a P5,000 to P8,000 wage subsidy to employees through the Social Security System (SSS).

But Gatchalian pointed out that this one-time subsidy does not provide long-term support to employees.

The senator said many Filipinos have lost their jobs after companies opted to downsize their operations to trim their losses as they weather the economic impact of the pandemic.

Citing a report from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Gatchalian noted that 7.3 million Filipinos are unemployed as of April 2020, an all-time high unemployment rate.

The lawmaker also warned of uncertain labor market recovery after a study by the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) revealed a 14% drop in global working hours during the second quarter of 2020, equivalent to the loss of 400 million full-time jobs, based on a 48-hour working week.

The same ILO study projects a decrease in working hours of 4.9% in the second half of the year which is equivalent to the loss of 140 million full-time jobs.

Gatchalian said there is a need for the government to prioritize the preservation of jobs in the country, and it will need an estimated P301 billion to create direct and indirect jobs for those impacted by the COVID-19-induced economic crisis for the rest of the year.

“The government has been calling for Filipinos to help spur the economy by spending more and taking advantage of record-low interest rates. But how can Juan dela Cruz think of spending his hard-earned cash during this crisis when he isn’t sure whether he’d be able to keep his job the following day,” he said.

That’s why I implore the government to prioritize the preservation of jobs of our kababayan so that they’ll be able to contribute in reviving our economy back,” he added.

Gov’t urged to grant incentives, not taxes to online sellers

Robie de Guzman   •   June 22, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Monday called on the government to extend fresh capital and other financial assistance, instead of implementing “untimely” new taxes to online entrepreneurs amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a statement, Gatchalian said online sellers should be covered by the microfinancing program of the Small Business Corporation (SB Corp.) under the Department of Trade and Industry to help them grow their business and recover from the economic effects of the pandemic.

The senator noted that DTI’s SB Corp. has a P1 billion Enterprise Rehabilitation Financing facility under the Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso (Covid19 P3-ERF) to support micro and small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

The microfinancing program offers a minimal interest rate of not more than 2.5% per month with no collateral requirement.

Micro enterprises with asset size of not more than PhP3 million may borrow PhP10,000 up to PhP200,000 while small enterprises with asset size of not more than PhP10 million may borrow a higher loan amount but will not exceed PhP500,000.

“Ang DTI ay dapat magbigay pa nga ng puhunan sa mga Pilipino na nawalan ng trabaho at gustong makaahon sa kahirapan sa pamamagitan ng pagnenegosyo sa online. Sa ganitong panahon ng pandemya, mas magandang nasa tahanan lang sila at nag-nenegosyo. Nabibigyan pa nila ng trabaho ang mga delivery service riders.” Gatchalian said.

“Hindi lang basta ayuda ang hinihingi ng mga negosyanteng ito. Ang hinihingi nila ay malaya silang bigyan ng oportunidad na makapag-negosyo para may kita sila,” he added.

Gatchalian, vice chairman of the Senate committee on economic affairs, issued the statement following Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) move to require online sellers to register their business until July 31, and pay taxes if they are earning higher than P250,000 a year.

The lawmaker believes that registering businesses with the BIR is ineffective since its system requires an applicant’s physical presence at this time when people are still being restricted from leaving their homes.

“Nakita ko na hindi rin handa ang ating pamahalaan na buwisan ang ating mga maliliit na negosyante dahil yung ultimong pagre-rehistro ay hindi pa sila handa kaya huwag na nating ipilit sa ganitong panahon ng pandemya, dahil hindi lang marami ang naghihirap kundi marami rin ang natatakot na lumabas ng kanilang bahay,” he stressed.

Aside from providing capital, Gatchalian also urged the DTI to make use of the Philippine Innovation Law to enhance the competitiveness of these online sellers.

The law aims to harness innovation efforts to help the poor, the marginalized, and MSMEs to be a part of the domestic and global supply chain.

Gatchalian asks Telcos to build cell sites in public schools

Robie de Guzman   •   June 16, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Tuesday called on telecommunication companies to install cell sites in public schools to provide internet access to all of the country’s 42,000 barangays as demand for various online services increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Gatchalian said public schools provide viable spots for cell sites and that this move would help accelerate the installation of free wi-fi hotspots in the country’s public places to boost the capacity of schools to utilize the distance learning in emergencies.

“We hit two birds with one stone. Out of the almost 62,000 schools nationwide, merong 47,000 na public schools. Now, there are about 42 thousand barangays nationwide. So bawat barangay merong public school at kung pwede nating patayuan ng cell site at wifi-based station sa bawat public school, sagip na natin ang buong Pilipinas dahil buong barangay ay makakabitan natin ng cell site,” he said.

“Ang proposal natin sa telecommunication companies ay gamitin ang lupa ng ating mga public school,” he added.

Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, stressed that in the long run, these cell sites would save the country’s public schools billions of pesos to pay for internet connection.

He also emphasized that bridging the digital divide will help the country’s education system to innovate and ensure that no learner is left behind.

“Kung meron sana tayong sapat na imprastraktura, meron tayong internet, meron tayong mga gadgets, hindi magiging problema yung pagtuturo sa mga estudyante, lalo na ngayong kailangan nating mag-shift sa distance learning,” Gatchalian said.

Citing records from the Department of Education, the lawmaker said that 58% of elementary schools, 80% of junior high schools, and 72% of senior high schools are connected to the internet.

He also mentioned the mapping of public schools and cell site towers by Project BASS or Bandwidth and Signal Statistics which showed that 44% or 20,398 public schools were found to be located more than six kilometers away from the nearest cell site means they have either very poor or no access to the internet.

The ideal distance for a school to the closest cell site should not be more than three kilometers to get a good internet connection.

“Moving forward, kahit wala nang COVID-19, importante ring pagsikapan nating maabot ang bawat isang kabahayan gamit ang internet, at mabigyan natin ang mga bata ng kagamitan, mga gadgets, para magamit nila sa pag-aaral,” Gatchalian said.

The senator earlier filed Resolution No. 392 which seeks to review the implementation coverage of the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act and its effectivity in elementary and secondary public schools, Alternative Learning System Centers, and other community learning centers in the country.

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