The big money pit

June 12, 2020

Go for the big bucks, not the loose change.

The government’s fiscal fitness is being severely tested this year.

The inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee  recently approved the increase of the budget deficit projection to P1.56 trillion, or about 8.1 percent of gross domestic product.

This is higher than the already revised projection of 5.3 percent of GDP, which, in turn, has been hiked from 3.2 percent of GDP projection because of the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

Revenue projection has been cut to P2.61 trillion, lower than the P3.17 trillion approved by the DBCC during their meeting last March 27.

Disbursement is seen to rise to P4.18 trillion, or about 21.7 percent of domestic output, due to Covid-19 related spending.

A government that is strapped for cash and still committed to what is turning out to be a perpetual social protection program must stretch its tax-collecting arms to where the big bundles of cash are – the gaming sector.    

It is the place where money flows endlessly but is generally believed to be scarcely scratched by the Taxman.  

Thus, a very discerning young lawmaker advised state collectors: “Cast your tax nets on the big fish, not on the small fry.”

Sen. Joel Villanueva has prodded the Bureau of Internal Revenue to prioritize the collection of back taxes from sectors like the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations which owes at least P50 billion, to raise much-needed government revenue.

"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 ang utang nito na P50 bilyon na buwis sa atin. Sila ang dapat tinututukan ng BIR," Villanueva said in a statement.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment, and Human Resources Development pointed out that the government has seemingly bent over backwards in urging POGO firms to pay their unpaid taxes, but their call has fallen on deaf ears.

From P73.72 million in 2016, revenues from POGOs significantly increased to P3.12 billion in 2017; P6.11 billion in 2018; and P5.73 billion in 2019.

In the first quarter of 2020, POGOs already contributed P1.80 billion in regulatory fees alone. From 2016 to March 2020, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. has already collected a total of P20.83 billion from POGOs in regulatory and other related fees.

As a condition to resume its operations, POGOs must settle taxes it owes the government, including a notarized commitment to pay its arrears in previous years, according to the BIR's Revenue Memorandum Circular  46-2020 issued on May 7, 2020.

But two weeks after the memo's release, Internal Revenue  Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa was quoted in media reports as saying that no POGO firms or their service providers have come forward to settle their tax obligations.

"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."

"Pasalamat po tayo at likas na ma-diskarte ang ating mga kababayan. Hindi na nga po natin nabigyan ng tulong ang karamihan, bubuwisan pa natin yung mga nais maghanapbuhay ng marangal,"  he lamented. "Dapat tutukan ng BIR ang pagkolekta ng utang na buwis mula sa mga POGO. Unahin po natin ang kapakanan ng mga kababayan natin."

At least three illegal POGO operations were busted by police during the enhanced community quarantine in Paranaque, Makati, and Las Pinas, arresting over 450 foreigners and confiscating hundreds of gadgets and about P7 million in cash.

Police raided two illegal POGO operations in Bacoor, Cavite and Quezon City days after Metro Manila and nearby provinces were placed under general community quarantine. Over 240 foreigners were arrested in the separate busts.