BIR urged to review, re-write memo on online seller registration

Robie de Guzman   •   June 17, 2020   •   626

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday urged the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to ‘withdraw, review, and re-write’ its memorandum circular on the registration and taxing of online sellers.

“Naging magulo para sa mga online sellers ang memo mula sa BIR. Mabuti pang bawiin, i-review, at i-rewrite muna ng ahensiya ang guidelines na nilabas nila,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

The senator said BIR’s memorandum circular 60-2020 released early this month, alarmed small online sellers and was criticized by some lawmakers as “ill-timed” and “insensitive.”

BIR’s circular notified all persons doing business and earning income through the use of any electronic platforms and media, and other digital means to register their businesses pursuant to Section 236 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) by July 31, 2020.

“As of today, RMC 60-2020 is still enforceable. Strictly speaking, its text still mandates all, including small online sellers, to register with the BIR,” she said.

“Kung may deadline man, sana ay i-urong muna dahil nasa panahon tayo ng matinding krisis,” she added, stressing that any clarifications about the said memorandum should be put in writing.

Hontiveros’ remarks came after the Department of Trade and Industry clarified that small online sellers or those who earn P250,000 and below annually are exempted from paying taxes with the BIR.

“Dapat maging malinaw sa BIR circular ang mga exemptions para sa mga small online sellers at para sa mga nag-o-online selling bilang pantawid ngayong marami ang nawalan ng trabaho at kita,” Hontiveros said.

The senator also stated that the enforcement of the BIR circular may force small online sellers to shell out hefty amount of money to register and avoid penalties.

She noted that although small online sellers may be exempt from paying income taxes, the said circular requires them to not only physically troop to BIR offices, but also spend around P2,260 to fully comply with all documentary requirements and at least P1,500 for the printing of receipts.

“If the circular is still enforced and if we are to strictly follow government policy, online sellers will have to shell out at least PhP 2,260 pesos each just to register,” Hontiveros said.

“DTI certification, BIR’s own registration fee, and payment for printing of receipts will cost roughly 2,260 pesos in total,” she added.

“May dagdag-gastos din na at least 1,500 pesos kung magpapa-imprenta ulit ng resibo. May pwedeng dagdag-gastos din sa pag-file ng financial report quarterly. Mahirap yan para sa isang small-time online seller na dapat ay may proper documentation na ang kita niya ay less than 250,000 pesos annually.”

She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has left a record number of Filipinos jobless, with the Philippine Statistics Authority reporting 7.3 million unemployed adults in April.

“The country’s economic recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic is driving millions into unemployment. Many Filipinos are turning to online selling to make ends meet. We should not punish them with confusing guidelines and hefty fees,” she said.

Instead of imposing new obligations that may discourage online sellers, Hontiveros said the government should promote and protect online selling as a safe and efficient means of earning income for Filipinos.

It should also address emerging issues like online fraud, ‘joy-dibbing’ and other abusive trade practices of sellers or customers alike.

Hontiveros also reiterated her call to the government to intensify its efforts of collecting unpaid taxes from the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators instead of taxing online sellers.

“Unahin nilang singilin ang 50 billion pesos na reported na utang na taxes ng mga POGO, bago nila pagtuunan ng pansin ang kakarampot na kita ng mga online seller,” she said.

Finance chief orders BIR, BOC to probe coops used for rice imports

Robie de Guzman   •   November 27, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has ordered the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs to assist in the investigation being conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DA) into the reported use of cooperatives by private traders as dummies for rice imports.

“There’s this question now as to why traders are using coops to import rice …. Let’s look into that because they might be using the tax advantage on rice imports,” Dominguez told BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay and BOC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero during a recent executive committee meeting.

Dominguez issued the directive following the DA’s decision to temporarily halt the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSIC) to farmers’ cooperatives and irrigators’ associations for commercial purposes.

Through Administrative Order No. 34 issued in October, the DA suspended the SPSICs to coops and irrigators’ associations, effectively barring them from importing rice, after the DA received reports that these organizations have resorted to rice imports rather than carry out their purpose of procuring local rice from farmers.

Both the DOF and DA have also received reports that the SPSICs issued to cooperatives have been misused by traders to avoid legal responsibilities and evade the payment of the correct amount of import taxes.

Finance Undersecretary Antonette Tionko also noted that while cooperatives are not exempted from paying duties for importing rice, they can be exempted from paying the income tax on these imports if they are registered with the BIR as tax-exempt entities.

Through the AO, the DA directed the Bureau of Plant Industry to probe and to consult with affected stakeholders “to come up with new policies and rules to avoid circumvention of the laws” and to protect the farmers and cooperatives form exploitation.

Bill seeking work benefits, incentives for Bantay Dagat volunteers filed at Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   November 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A bill seeking to grant incentives and work benefits for Bantay Dagat volunteers or “sea wardens” in the country has been filed at the Senate.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said she has filed Senate Bill No. 1919 or the Bantay Dagat Welfare and Incentives Act which aims to recognize accredited bantay dagat volunteers who are mostly town fisherfolks who work with local and national agencies in conserving, protecting, and managing the country’s marine resources.

“Our fisherfolk communities are at the frontlines of climate change. Sila ang unang-unang naapektuhan ng pagbabago sa klima, pati na ng mga negatibong epekto nito sa ating kalikasan,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“This gives all the more reason, to not only recognize their noble work, but also to provide tangible support. Bigyan natin ng dignidad ang kanilang ginagawa para sa ating bayan,” she added.

The bill seeks to entitle the volunteers to insurance and Philhealth coverage, hazard allowance, subsistence allowance, training and career enrichment programs, and access to loans.

It also aims to grant sea wardens the security of tenure, which means that they shall not be removed or terminated except for just and valid causes as determined by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

The bill also mandates local government to allocate regular funding for Bantay Dagat volunteers and their operational requirements.

“The Bantay Dagat bill is an important step towards encouraging and giving recognition to the importance of community participation in the protection of our fisheries,” Hontiveros said.

“But government must further arm itself through modernizing and upping our defense capability towards the protection of Philippine waters. Nakahanda ang mga komunidad magbantay, palakasin din ang pagbabantay ng gobyerno,” she added.

Hontiveros also underscored the importance of installing Bantay Dagat volunteers especially within municipalities along contested waters, such as the West Philippine Sea, to aid in government surveillance efforts against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

The government must also beef up its capacity to ward off incursions in the WPS, she added.

Hontiveros urges NBI, DOH to charge hospitals violating anti-hospital deposit law

Robie de Guzman   •   September 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros has called on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Department of Health (DOH) to file criminal charges against hospitals that violate the Strengthened Anti-Hospital Deposit Law.

Hontiveros, author of the law, said local government units (LGU) and law enforcement agencies should actively monitor and enforce sanctions through their regulatory powers on hospitals that violate the law.

The senator emphasized that hospitals demanding cash from emergency patients before providing treatment is unlawful.

“It is unjust to ask a dying person to cough up money before even attempting to save his or her life,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

“Bakit natin itinataboy ang mga pasyenteng nasa hukay na ang isang paa? Dapat maparusahan ang lumalabag sa batas. Hindi makatarungang may mga pasyenteng namamatay dahil sa kawalan ng pera lalo na sa gitna ng isang health crisis,” she added.

Hontiveros, meanwhile, welcomed the filing of criminal charges against two hospitals that refused to admit a pregnant woman without initial deposit in April, leading to her death.

“I hope the NBI, with the assistance of DOH and LGUs, will continue to file criminal charges against similar violators. Hospitals must not get away with these unjust refusals that literally kill our fellow Filipinos,” she said.

“Two people, a mother and her child, died that day, as countless others have because of this selfish practice,” she added.

Hontiveros likewise urged the LGUs to mobilize their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) to “own up to this life-saving responsibility, especially that they have consistently received assistance from the government in all health emergencies, including COVID-19.”

Hospitals violating the law could face a fine of P1 million and imprisonment of up to six years. Licenses of the hospitals violating the law could also be revoked.

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