BSP issues digital banking license for Overseas Filipino Bank

Robie de Guzman   •   April 5, 2021   •   438

MANILA, Philippines – The Overseas Filipino Bank (OFBank) has officially become the first branchless digital-only bank in the country’s history after securing a digital banking license from the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

OFBank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), secured a digital banking license last March 25, the DOF said in a statement on Monday.

Prior to that, the bank was able to commence its banking operations in June last year using its then-existing license to operate as a thrift bank.

OFBank, under Executive Order (EO) No. 44 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in September 2017, was created to establish a policy bank dedicated to providing financial products and services tailored to the requirements of overseas Filipinos.

“This milestone in the country’s banking history not only fulfills President Duterte’s campaign pledge to create a bank that caters to overseas Filipinos but will also help the Philippines leapfrog to the digital economy,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said.

“When President Duterte said he would create a bank that would serve overseas-based Filipinos, he wanted a bank that would be a trailblazer in terms of modernizing and expanding the scope of the services it offers to them,” he added.

OFBank was launched virtually in June last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the Philippines’ first branchless and digital-centric government bank, the DOF said.

While fine-tuning its operations, systems, and processes to enable its official transition into a digital bank, OFBank operated as a thrift bank, the DOF said.

In December 2020, the BSP issued Circular No. 1105 containing the guidelines on the establishment of digital banks, clearing the way for OFBank to apply for a license as a digital bank.

OFBank offers four digital products and services that include a digital onboarding system with artificial intelligence (DOBSAI), which allows the real-time opening of a mobile banking deposit account on supported iPhone or Android devices.

Aside from deposit savings accounts, OFBank’s digital services also include fund transfers, bill payments, and applications for multi-purpose loans, the DOF said.

OFBank’s global digital reach spans 112 countries, with its clients able to access online the services of 763 merchants onboarded in its mobile application via the LinkBiz.Portal, it added.

DOF urges Congress to support Duterte order to increase pork imports at lower tariff rates

Robie de Guzman   •   April 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has called on lawmakers to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to temporarily increase pork importations at lower tariff rates to address pork supply woes in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Dominguez said the recommendation to the President to temporarily reduce pork import tariffs and increase the minimum access volume (MAV) on pork imports was made by him and the administration’s economic development cluster (EDC) “after extensive deliberations and consultations among concerned agencies and the public, with all the tradeoffs considered in the cost-benefit analysis done on this major consumer concern.”

In a letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Dominguez said that as Chairman of the Cabinet’s Economic Development Cluster (EDC), he was taking full responsibility for supporting and recommending to the President to sign Executive Order (EO) No. 128, which temporarily modified the rates of the import duties on fresh, chilled and frozen meat of swine and increased the MAV on such imports.

Dominguez pointed out in his letter that the period of the tariff adjustment under the EO emphasizes that “this is a short-term effort that does not aim to harm the domestic industry” and is actually “complementary to the programs of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in helping the domestic hog industry to recover.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Senate to support this measure so that some 100 million Filipinos who eat pork, especially the poor, will not be penalized by high food prices. If left unresolved, poverty and malnutrition will increase,” Dominguez said in his letter.

“Elevated pork prices will add another problem to households whose incomes have already been heavily strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. With African Swine Fever (ASF) raging through farms for almost two years, data show that domestic supply will remain inadequate for the needs of consumers,” he added.

Pork prices in the National Capital Region (NCR) have already reached as high as P327 per kilo in March 2021, which is 59 percent higher compared to last year.

In March 2021, meat inflation increased to 20.9 percent and was the top contributor to overall inflation of 1.4 percentage points, even higher than the 1 percent contribution to inflation of rice at the height of the 2018 rice crisis.

Dominguez said that to resolve the ASF crisis gripping the domestic hog industry, the DA has put in place several programs, among them, repopulating the swine population, compensating producers for losses in culled hogs, and investing in long-term solutions to the problems of the swine industry.

He pointed out though that these are medium-term and long-term solutions that will not immediately address the current price pressures affecting pork consumers.

Contrary to misperceptions, the DA does not intend to rely on importation alone to solve supply issues in the long haul, the DOF chief said.

“Even with increased imports, a large part of domestic demand is expected to be covered by domestic production, which the DA will aggressively support with improved implementation of its hog production assistance and repopulation program,” Dominguez said.

Bill seeking to amend PH Insurance Code filed in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   April 19, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – A bill seeking to introduce amendments to the Philippine Insurance Code and place the Insurance Commission (IC) under the supervision of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has been filed at the Senate.

In lodging Senate Bill 2133, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go proposed to amend Presidential Decree No. 1460 or the Insurance Code of 1978 to explicitly include health maintenance organizations (HMO) into the law’s regulatory coverage which shall enable the Insurance Commission (IC) to provide stricter supervision.

Go said this will better protect the industry and the public from unscrupulous practices.

At present, HMOs are covered by the IC but Go said it is still unclear if the provisions of the Insurance Code apply to them.

“Itong finile ko po, kahit nasa ilalim ng Insurance Commission ang HMO, ‘di pa rin po malinaw kung nag-apply sa HMO ang mga provision ng Insurance Code. Mas maganda rin na nasa batas,” the senator said in a statement.

“Ang panukala ay naglalayong isali ang HMO sa Insurance Code para ma-protektahan ang interes ng mga kababayan natin at mahikayat ang competitive market sa health insurance industry,” he added.

According to Go, HMOs will be subjected to the provisions of the Code not explicitly provided for in Executive Order 192. These provisions include the commission’s powers to issue cease-and-desist orders to prevent fraud or injury to the public.

This also aims to enhance competition in the insurance industry and effectively improve insurance services for Filipinos.

Under the proposed amendments, the Insurance Commission will also be put under the supervision of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas which ensures that all financial service providers in the country are regulated by a single regulatory authority. The IC’s powers will also be amended under the proposal.

If passed into law, Go expressed optimism that the measure will benefit Filipinos investing in HMOs as it will provide them the necessary safeguards to ensure that their investments are protected.

BIR, DOF urged to extend deadline for ITR filing

Robie de Guzman   •   April 7, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Nancy Binay on Wednesday called on the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Department of Finance (DOF) to reconsider their decision not to extend the April 15 deadline for the filing and payment of annual income tax returns for the year 2020.

“I-extend na lang sana ang April 15 deadline, kahit na sa NCR Plus lang. We already extended last year dahil sa enhanced community quarantine. Nasa parehong sitwasyon tayo a year later, kaya hindi ko naiintindihan bakit hindi mapagbigyan,” Binay said in a statement.

BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa on Monday said the bureau would not be extending the deadline due to the government’s need to reach its revenue targets to fund the pandemic response.

As a relief for taxpayers, Dulay said the BIR will allow the filing of a tentative ITR before the deadline and give them until May 15 to amend the returns without penalties.

If overpayment of taxes will be made on the revised ITRs, the bureau said taxpayers can either file for a refund, or choose to carry over the overpaid tax as a credit against the tax due for the same tax type in the following period.

But Binay said individual taxpayers and even micro and small businesses would find it difficult to comply, in the first place, given the restrictions on movement.

“Ang talo kasi rito iyong mga indibidwal at maliliit na negosyo na limitado ang kapasidad na kumpletuhin ang mga requirements dahil sa lockdown. So para sa kanila, walang bearing ang no-penalty amendments dahil baka mismong pag-file hindi nila magawa,” she said.

The senator also said that even corporate taxpayers would be pressed for time in adjusting their payments to the lower rates provided as relief by the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Law, which President Rodrigo Duterte only signed on March 26. The BIR released the law’s draft implementing rules and regulations on Tuesday.

Binay also stressed that a deadline extension does not mean non-payment.

“Hindi naman dahil extended ay hindi na magbabayad. Those who are able to will file and pay. Ang panawagan lang naman natin is not to penalize those who are unable to comply because of the difficulties presented by the lockdown,” she said.

Based on the BIR’s monthly collection goal, the agency aims to collect P235.237 billion in April.

The BIR said taxpayers or assigned officers can also use their electronic signatures in filing returns, attachments, and other documents needed, which will be considered as actual signatures.

It recently allowed taxpayers to file their returns and make payments anywhere, or even outside the area covered by Revenue District Offices where they are registered, without incurring penalties.

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