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Villanueva opposes taxing online sellers amid COVID-19: ‘Pasalamat tayo madiskarte sila’

Senator Joel Villanueva on Thursday said the government should change course on its plan to tax online sellers as he stressed that these entrepreneurs who have maximized the online space are trying to cope with the adverse impacts of COVID-19.

“Pasalamat po tayo at likas na madiskarte ang ating mga kababayan. Hindi na nga po natin nabigyan ng tulong ang karamihan, bubuwisan pa natin 'yung mga nais maghanapbuhay nang marangal,” Villanueva said in a statement.

While acknowledging that the government needs to collect more revenues, the chair of the Senate committee on labor said the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) should go after the "big fish, not the small fry."

“Alam po natin na kailangan ng ating gobyerno na kumulekta ng buwis. Unahin po natin 'yung mga napatunayan nang atrasado sa pagbabayad ng buwis. Hanggang ngayon, hindi pa rin nababayaran ng mga POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) ang utang nito na P50 bilyon na buwis sa atin. Sila ang dapat tinututukan ng BIR,” Villanueva said.

He further underscored that two weeks after the agency released a May 7 memorandum ordering the POGOs to settle their unpaid taxes before they can be allowed to resume operations, BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa reportedly said that no POGO firms or service providers have come forward yet.

“Ang dami nang pagkakataon ang ibinibigay ng gobyerno sa mga POGO para ituwid ang kanilang operasyon. Malinaw po na winawaldas lang nila itong pagkakataon,” Villanueva said.

“Ganitong pagkakataon po dapat ang ibinibigay rin natin sa mga mamamayan natin, lalo na sa mga online sellers na nakikipagsapalaran ngayon," he added.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also made the same appeal to collect POGOs' unpaid obligations first.

In response, the Palace insisted that the government has been collecting POGOs' unpaid taxes.

Senator Francis Pangilinan said this is not the right time to place more burden on Filipinos' shoulders.

"Now is the time to give them relief and support," he said.

While agreeing that taxing online sellers is ill-timed, Senator Sonny Angara, on the other hand, said these dues are well within the law.

"The timing is not the best given the difficulties experienced by our countrymen but these are not new taxes but just collection of taxes due under existing laws," said Angara, chair of the Senate committee on finance.

"So if you ask a seller who has a store, he will say it’s only fair to have a level playing field since that seller pays the transaction taxes due. It should’ve been done earlier really," he added.

Senator Imee Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on economic affairs, also shared the same sentiment.

She said that while e-businesses can be regulated and taxed by requiring them to secure a compliance trustmark from a third-party, the measure will have to be deferred in the meantime.

"The timing is not right. Let's give time for the underground economy to flourish and help jumpstart the country's economy. Else, they will continue to depend on government subsidy, two or three years maybe," Marcos said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, nonetheless, said online sellers with net incomes of less than P250,000 a year do not need to pay taxes. — BM, GMA News