Revilla eyes taxes from digital economy to boost revenues amid health crisis

May 19, 2020
Ramon “Bong” Revilla
Ramon “Bong” Revilla

SINCE the Philippines’s shift towards digitalization continues to accelerate due to the imposition of community quarantine measures brought about by COVID-19, Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla eyes the rapid growth of the digital economy as an opportunity for the government to increase its income to be used for providing services for all Filipinos affected by the pandemic.

The veteran legislator filed PS Res. No. 410 urging the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the appropriate Senate Committees to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the possibility of collecting taxes from multinational online streaming services and the digital economy in general.

He stated that some of the most technologically-advanced countries such as Norway, Australia, Japan, France, South Korea, United Kingdom, Singapore, and Malaysia have already adopted and passed their respective versions of digital service tax laws which enable them to collect taxes from local consumption and use of digital content and services from foreign providers.

The lawmaker also pointed out that the establishment of a digital taxation framework is among the strategies recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force Technical Working Group (IATF TWG) for Anticipatory and Forward Planning.

“We need to embrace the digital revolution of our time, and to comprehensively review and update our existing tax laws regarding digital economy,” Revilla said.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine digital economy was expected to grow by more than 250% from $7 billion to $25 billion by 2025, equivalent to 5.3 percent of country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Also, Filipinos were recognized as voracious online users, typically spending around 10 hours and two minutes of their time in the internet, exceeding the global average online time of six hours and 42 minutes daily. Filipinos spend around four hours and 12 minutes on various social media platforms every day, nearly double the global daily average of two hours and 16 minutes. Filipinos spend at least 3.3 hours daily watching online content on mobile devices.

The veteran lawmaker suggested that revenues raised from such taxes could be used to finance the national economic recovery plan, especially the rehabilitation of severely affected industries, and the construction of “Schools for the Future” which are equipped with digital technologies and laboratories.

“Habang patuloy po ang pagpapatupad natin ng quarantine measures tulad ng social distancing at pagbabawal sa mass gathering, at sa pagpasok nga po natin doon sa tinatawag na ‘New Normal,’ tiyak pong mas marami tayong kababayan na gagamit ng technology-based services tulad ng mga online streaming at online market,” Bong Revilla said.

Revilla raised that while local online businesses have already been covered by our taxation laws, multinational corporations with more sophisticated technological capabilities, less physical presence yet wider reach may have to be properly taxed given the outdated provisions and leakages in our tax measures.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) issued Revenue Memorandum Circular No. 55-2013 reminding the taxpayers’ obligations in relation to online business transactions including online shopping or online retailing, online intermediary service, online advertisement/classified ads, and online auction

He further cited multilateral efforts at unifying tax rules regarding digital economy, such as the one led by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to address overlaps with individual state measures and avoid double taxation, considering the borderless nature of such transactions.