Security audit of PH power facilities sought in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   November 27, 2019   •   540

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday called on her colleagues to investigate the country’s power transmission sector amid concerns on foreign access and control over the power grid system.

Hontiveros saidshe has filed Senate Resolution No. 223 to seek for a legislative inquiry and national security audit of operations and facilities of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) following reports that China could control and remotely shut down the country’s transmission network.

NGCP, the country’s power transmission service provider is 40% owned by the State Grid Corporation of China.

“We need to know for certain if our energy systems and infrastructure fully remain under Filipino control, and if we have implemented the technical safeguards needed to prevent foreign interference in or sabotage of our national electricity grid,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

In her resolution, Hontiveros proposed lawmakers to “review and evaluate the performance of the NGCP,” as well as investigate reports that China may control and remotely shut down the country’s power transmission system.

She pointed to information on ‘foreign executives’ connected with the NGCP who have been hiring and deploying foreign drivers and engineers, in violation of Section 11, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution – which requires executive and managing officers of public utilities like NGCP to be Filipino citizens – and the Anti-Dummy Law.

Reports also claim that only Chinese engineers have been able to troubleshoot, operate and control the NGCP’s power transmission facilities “because of the currently-installed information and communication technology for the automatic and remote monitoring and control of said facilities.”

She also noted reports claiming that only Chinese engineers have been able to troubleshoot, operate and control the NGCP’s power transmission facilities “because of the currently-installed information and communication technology for the automatic and remote monitoring and control of said facilities.”

“If these reports are true, these vulnerabilities pose a grave risk to public infrastructure, to national security, and to the daily lives of our people. We must address and correct these flaws immediately,” Hontiveros said.

The NGCP, however, dismissed Hontiveros’ apprehensions, and assured that Filipinos are in control of the country’s power transmission facilities.

The NGCP, which was created in 2009, is owned by a consortium of 3 corporations, namely, the State Grid Corporation of China, and Monte Oro Grid Resources Corporation and Calaca High Power Corporation, both from Philippines and hold the remaining 60 percent stake.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), for its part, said the matter is within the purview of the National Power Corporation, and the NGCP which is privy to the provisions and necessary safeguards in place in the contract.

However, the AFP assured it will be discussing the security aspect of the issue with concerned agencies, and participate on matters relevant to its competency.

“We submit that Congress is well within its powers to conduct an inquiry if it so desires given its oversight and legislative functions,” AFP Spokesperson Marine Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo added in a statement. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Nel Maribojoc)

Resolution urging BIR to suspend tax memo on online sellers filed at Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   June 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said she has filed a resolution seeking for the suspension of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) memo that mandates online sellers to register and pay taxes amid struggles of finding alternative means to earn money during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a statement, Hontiveros said she recently filed Senate Resolution No. 453 which urges the BIR to suspend the memo’s implementation “until the end of the year.”

The resolution also sought for a Senate investigation into the agency’s efforts to subject online sellers to taxation and registration requirements, which was criticized by many for being “ill-timed and insensitive.”

“Kung hahabulin ng pamahalaan ang malalaking digital entrepreneurs, dapat siguraduhing hindi nito pahihirapan ang maliliit na online seller na dumidiskarte ngayon para kumita. Our revenue policies should be sensitive to the struggles of Filipinos trying to make ends meet in these difficult times,” Hontiveros said.

Malacañang earlier clarified that not all online sellers will need to pay taxes but should still register their business and update their tax records. The Palace also stressed that those earning less than P250,000 annually are tax exempt, referring to a provision of the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law which states that only income above P250,000 is subject to taxes.

The Department of Trade and Industry also backed BIR’s move, saying the registration requirement only aims to build a registry of online sellers.

While Hontiveros noted Malacañang’s clarification, she said the registration requirement may still cost online sellers thousands of pesos in fees.

“It is best for everybody’s interests if the BIR suspends the implementation of the memo until December 31, 2020, while government agencies review and craft better policy guidelines on how online entrepreneurs should register or pay taxes,” she said.

The senator also pushed for a digital platform for BIR registration instead of requiring applicants to physically troop to its offices.

“Magkaroon muna ng digital platform for registration. Requiring people to congregate at the BIR’s offices likewise exposes them to the health risks associated with COVID-19 and might also lead to further spreading the disease and prolonging the pandemic,” she said.

She also reiterated her earlier call for the government to prioritize the collection of tax duties of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) rather than individuals who are making temporarily living via social media channels to weather the economic effects of the pandemic.

“It is only proper for the BIR to ensure that big digital businesses earning millions in profits – such as Philippine Online Gaming Operators (POGOs) – are paying proper taxes as required by law. Pero sana, huwag na pahirapan ang mga kababayan nating dumidiskarte para makakain,” Hontiveros said.

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

Robie de Guzman   •   June 17, 2020

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.

Hontiveros seeks audit on government’s use of funds, special powers under ‘Bayanihan’ Law

Robie de Guzman   •   June 4, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros has called for an audit on how the executive branch used the funds and the special powers granted by Congress to boost the government’s response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Hontiveros stressed the need for audit as Congress “surrendered” its power of the purse to the president under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“Dahil sa Bayanihan Act ay isinuko na ng Kongreso ang kaniyang ‘power of the purse.’ Kaya kailangang bantayang maigi kung saan napupunta ang pera,” she said, adding that the audit should be conducted before passing the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill.

Hontiveros said that despite the passage of the Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan Law granting emergency powers to the President, the government has failed to meet its health and economic relief targets, as evidenced by massive backlogs, slow contact tracing efforts, and delays in the release of test results to persons under quarantine or monitoring.

“We should have established sufficient infrastructure and mustered enough human resources to adequately respond to this health crisis. However, this is clearly not the case,” she said.

“Apat na buwan na ang nakakaraan. Bilyon-bilyon ang pondo na nasa kamay ng pamahalaan at malawak ang kapangyarihan na ibinigay natin sa Pangulo. Pero hanggang ngayon, wala pa rin tayong pinangako nilang 30,000 tests per day. Hindi rin malinaw kung na-flatten na ba ang curve ng pandemiya,” she added.

Hontiveros also called out the Department of Health’s “failure” to present to public comprehensive, reliable and accurate data on the pandemic.

“Naguguluhan na ang publiko at mismong policy makers sa ibinibigay na datos. Biglang may “fresh cases,” at may new cases pero old na raw. For government to produce the right policies, we have to have the right data in our hands,” she said.

She also criticized DOH for purchasing allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment and testing kits as revealed.

“Paano natin mapagkakatiwalaan ang gobyerno na gamitin sa maayos ang pera ng bayan kung may mga taong walang konsensiyang pinagkakakitaan ang pandemyang ito?” she said.

The lawmaker also questioned the government’s move to ease quarantine restrictions and allow select employees to go back to work when it is still unclear if the epidemic curve has been flattened.

“Now that we have shifted to GCQ (general community quarantine) and asked them to go back to work without mass testing and mandatory and demandable safety at work protocols, we are putting their lives at risk,” she said.

Hontiveros said the government should address these “major flaws” in the system as the country transitions to a new normal.

“Health and economic safeguards must be put in place before we send them out to what is now called the new normal. Let our rallying cry be: Save lives, save jobs,” she said.

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