SSS shifts to digital processing of benefit claims

Robie de Guzman   •   August 28, 2020   •   520

MANILA, Philippines – The online filing and registration of new employees as members of the Social Security System along with the submission of most forms and benefit claims has been made mandatory as of July 15, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

In a statement, the DOF said that the move is in compliance with the directive of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to shift to digital technology to further improve its services.

In its report to Dominguez, the SSS said the release of loans and benefits to members except for unbanked pensioners, have also been made “cheque-less” through the use of PesoNet and other electronic payment systems as of July this year.

SSS President-CEO Aurora Cruz Ignacio said the state-run firm is targeting to include unbanked pensioners in the “cheque-less” release of benefits by October this year.

She said that since July 15, the submission of the Maternity Notification Form for pregnant female SSS members and the Sickness Notification Form were required by the SSS to be done online.

The filing of Retirement Benefit Claim of members who are at least 65 years old and the application for Unemployment Insurance Benefit (UIB) have also been shifted to digital.

The online filing of the applications for the Calamity Loan and Salary Loan were made mandatory by the SSS a month earlier on June 15, while the filing of the Sickness Benefit Reimbursement Claim of employers was required to be done online as of July 1 this year.

The online enrollment of bank accounts in the My.SSS or SSS online portal is already mandatory for members since June 2020 and for employers starting August 2020.

The SSS said the online enrolment will enable to agency to automatically deposit benefits to the member’s and employer’s enrolled bank account.

Dominguez, who is also the ex-officio chairman of the Social Security Commission (SSC), last year urged the SSS to use digital tools to make it easier for its members to access its services.

The Finance chief said modernizing the SSS’ system will also help cut overhead costs for the pension fund.

He said the SSS needs to be prudent in managing its expenses, given that its task involves taking care of the hard-earned savings of Filipino workers.

“We have to do some serious investments in technology because it will not only save us money, but will also save time for the transacting public. Online transactions are easier and more convenient,” Dominguez said.

The SSS said it has also made mandatory the online filing of applications for the COVID-19 Calamity Loan Assistance Package (CLAP) since the program was launched last June 15.

Online filing of Funeral Benefit Claims for SSS member-claimants was made available starting July and will be mandatory by August, Ignacio said.

Meanwhile, the online filing of the Retirement Benefit Claim of OFW and voluntary members who are 60 to 64 years old has also been made mandatory starting August.

Bureau of Customs steps up drive vs rice smuggling

Robie de Guzman   •   September 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is ramping up its campaign against rice smuggling even amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic by conducting raids on warehouses suspected of storing illegally imported grains following reports from concerned citizens, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

In a statement on Tuesday, the DOF said that Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero has assured Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that rice stocks imported by private traders during the pandemic would still be subject to “post-modification and post audit.”

This system will ensure that undervalued shipments are properly assessed and subsequently paid with the correct amount of duties and taxes.

Guerrero also said he had informed the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) that because rice is considered a “critical” commodity, traders were allowed to avail of the Provisional Goods Declaration in processing their shipments at this time of the coronavirus pandemic.

The FFF earlier questioned the BOC’s assessment and valuation system on the entry of rice imports.

“The BOC has found the valuation of several rice shipments with provisional goods declaration to be quite low compared to the prevailing market prices,” Guerrero said in his report to Dominguez.

“But those are subject to post-modification and post-audit. And in the meantime, we are still conducting the post-modification, verifying the payments of rice because some of them are clearly undervalued. So we will catch up in the post modification and post-audit,” he added.

Under Customs Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 07-2020, if the Customs district/sub-port collector accepts a provisional goods declaration, the duty and tax treatment of the goods under provisional declaration will not be different from that of goods with complete declaration.

For the release of shipments under tentative assessment, the importer will be required to post the required security, whether in the form of surety bond or cash bond.

Guerrero said the customs bureau has also responded to reports by concerned citizens regarding warehouses suspected of storing smuggled rice stocks by immediately issuing letters of authority to enable BOC officers to inspect such warehouses and seize goods without the requisite importation permits.

“We actually raided them and we found out that many of these warehouses were operating legally and their stocks are covered by proper documents,” Guerrero said.

Philippines, Japan ink 50-B yen standby loan deal for post-disaster efforts

Robie de Guzman   •   September 16, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines and Japan signed an agreement for a 50 billion yen (around P23.3 billion) standby loan which aims to quickly disburse funding support for the government’s response to national calamities or health emergency, the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

In a statement, the DOF said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Chief Representative Eigo Azukizawa signed the deal Tuesday on the second phase of the post-disaster standby loan (PDSL).

Under this agreement, the DOF said the disbursement of the standby loan to the Philippines will be triggered by either of the following circumstances: the declaration of a state of calamity; or the declaration of a state of public health emergency.

In the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic or any other public health emergencies, the imposition of an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or its equivalent in the National Capital Region (NCR) or in any other highly urbanized area in the country will also trigger the disbursement of the loan, it added.

“The ongoing pandemic underscores the need to further improve our policy and institutional framework for disaster risk reduction and management. It likewise emphasizes the need to build our financial resilience against disasters and similar emergencies,” Dominguez said during the ceremonial signing of the loan deal at the DOF office in Manila.

The loan will be available for quick disbursement in tranches within three years once it is declared effective. It may be extended for an additional three-year period for up to four times.

The financing package under PDSL carries a fixed interest rate of 0.01 percent with a maturity of 40 years, inclusive of a 10-year grace period.

Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koji Haneda welcomed the agreement, saying that “as a calamity prone country like the Philippines, Japan fully understands the value of safeguarding lives, infrastructure and livelihood.”

The signing of this loan accord comes after a separate 50-billion yen loan inked by both countries in July for the COVID-19 Crisis Response Emergency Support Loan, which aims to assist the Philippine government’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease and aid Filipinos most affected by the pandemic.

DOF, BIR to allow taxpayers to settle 2018 tax deficiencies sans audit

Robie de Guzman   •   September 7, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Taxpayers who have yet to pay their liabilities will now be able to settle them without an audit, the Department of Finance (DOF) said Monday.

In a statement, the DOF said it has issued Revenue Regulations No. 21-2020 for the implementation of the Voluntary Assessment and Payment Program (VAPP) for the taxable year 2018.

“The VAPP allows taxpayers to voluntarily pay their unpaid internal revenue tax liabilities–with or without an ongoing audit of or investigation into their finances– and those who do so will no longer be audited or investigated for 2018 for the tax types availed,” it said.

The finance department said the VAAP program covers all internal revenue taxes due for the taxable year ending December 31, 2018, and for fiscal year 2018 ending on the last day of July 2018 to June 2019.

It likewise covers one-time transactions (ONETT) such as the payment of estate taxes, donor’s taxes and capital gains taxes (CGT), as well as ONETT-related creditable withholding taxes (CWT) or expanded withholding taxes and documentary stamp taxes (DST), it added.

The DOF, however, said that taxpayers who wish to avail of the VAPP must generally pay the higher of a certain percentage of 2018 gross sales or 2018 taxable net income, based on the increase or decrease in total taxes paid from taxable years 2017 to 2018, subject to minimum amounts based on subscribed capital.

The department expressed hope that the program will increase its tax collections while providing taxpayers an easy and affordable way to settle their unpaid tax deficiencies.

The program will run until December 31, 2020, the DOF said.

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