Duterte authorizes DOF to firm up US grant for BIR digital transformation

Robie de Guzman   •   January 20, 2021   •   607

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has authorized the Department of Finance (DOF) to enter into talks with the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) for a possible $809,450 or about P39-million grant to assist the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in its digital transformation program.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the DOF said the president has approved its request for a Special Authority designating and authorizing its senior officials “to negotiate and/or facilitate, in accordance with law, for and on behalf of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH), with the authorized representatives of the USTDA.”

The Special Authority covers the negotiations for an agreement on the grant of $809,450.00 (approximately P38,850,873.20) by the USTDA for the BIR’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Modernization Strategy and Data Center Technical Assistance Project.

The DOF said that Duterte also designated and authorized Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III or BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay “to conclude, sign, execute and deliver the said Grant Agreement.”

The BIR project aims to modernize the bureau’s infrastructure and operational environment, it added.

“The project funded by the USTDA grant will ensure an in-depth technical assessment of the BIR’s current ICT environment, the development of an Enterprise Architecture roadmap/framework, and an assessment of the organizational framework of the BIR’s Information System Group (ISG) including recommended restructuring and training programs,” the DOF said.

Dominguez has cited the BIR’s digital transformation efforts as among the factors that led to a dramatic improvement of its services to taxpayers and its robust collection performance ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic-induced crisis.

He said the digitally enhanced administrative reforms being undertaken by the BIR are now beginning to pay off by way of the significant improvement in the country’s tax effort from 13 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015 to 14.5 percent of GDP in 2019.

The digital switch has also led to the more convenient and efficient electronic filing of tax payments, especially during this coronavirus pandemic, he added.

Starting February 14 last year, the BIR allowed the use of the PayMaya mobile application as an additional electronic payment channel for tax payments.

On top of PayMaya, these other e-payment tools are GCash, LandBank Linkbiz, DBP PayTax, Union Bank Online and PESONet.

The BIR has also improved the tax forms deployed in the e-BIR Forms System to make the filing of tax returns more accessible and convenient to taxpayers.

It began the pilot implementation in April 21 last year of its web-based Internal Revenue Integrated System (IRIS) that will be the central tool and repository to process taxpayers’ information, the DOF said.

The IRIS is targeted to be available nationwide by the end of 2021.

The Finance department added that an Electronic Audited Financial System (eAFS) was also launched last June 1 to allow business taxpayers to electronically submit their financial statements to the BIR.

The BIR also launched on October 19 its eAppointment Facility which aims to enable taxpayers to continue consulting revenue officials on their tax-related concerns even with the mobility restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In November 2020, the BIR also opened its web-based Procurement, Payment, Inventory and Monitoring System (PPIMS) and its Online Application for Tax Clearance for Bidding Purposes (eTCBP), according to the DOF.

BOC, BIR to start field testing enforcement on fuel products on April 26

Marje Pelayo   •   April 9, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) have announced their intention to begin Field Testing Enforcement activities on fuel products beginning April 26.

The testing covers gasoline, diesel, and kerosene found in warehouses, storage tanks, gas stations, other retail outlets, and in such other properties, to check if they contain the required Fuel Marker level.

Vessels, tank trucks, and similar fuel transporting vehicles will also be covered by the enforcement activities.

Under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act, petroleum products found without the Official Fuel Marker or not containing the required level of the Official Fuel Marker are subject to payment of duties and taxes, as well as appropriate fines and penalties.

The payment is without prejudice to the confiscation and forfeiture of such Unmarked or Diluted Fuel and the filing of the appropriate criminal case.

The Field Testing process will be done using Mobile Laboratory Units equipped with analyzers capable of detecting the Official Fuel Marker’s presence in any fuel sample.

The test result will be generated on-site and will indicate a pass or fail result. Products with failed results will be subjected to Confirmatory Testing in the Fuel Testing Facility.

For purposes of transparency, the owner of the fuel or his representative will be allowed to witness the Field and Confirmatory Testing.

The two Bureaus began the Transitory Field Testing activities in February this year and will continue until April 26, 2021.

Under the Transitory Field Testing, sample fuels from retail stations and tank trucks in the National Capital Region (NCR) and nearby provinces were tested to determine the marker levels in the fuel supply available in the domestic market.

The Fuel Marking Program aims to raise revenues while curbing fuel smuggling and leveling the Philippine oil industry.

Beginning its implementation in September 2019 to December 2020, the BOC and BIR marked a total of 17.55 billion liters of fuel and have collected Php171.72 billion in duties and taxes under the program.

BIR, DOF urged to extend deadline for ITR filing

Robie de Guzman   •   April 7, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Nancy Binay on Wednesday called on the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Department of Finance (DOF) to reconsider their decision not to extend the April 15 deadline for the filing and payment of annual income tax returns for the year 2020.

“I-extend na lang sana ang April 15 deadline, kahit na sa NCR Plus lang. We already extended last year dahil sa enhanced community quarantine. Nasa parehong sitwasyon tayo a year later, kaya hindi ko naiintindihan bakit hindi mapagbigyan,” Binay said in a statement.

BIR Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa on Monday said the bureau would not be extending the deadline due to the government’s need to reach its revenue targets to fund the pandemic response.

As a relief for taxpayers, Dulay said the BIR will allow the filing of a tentative ITR before the deadline and give them until May 15 to amend the returns without penalties.

If overpayment of taxes will be made on the revised ITRs, the bureau said taxpayers can either file for a refund, or choose to carry over the overpaid tax as a credit against the tax due for the same tax type in the following period.

But Binay said individual taxpayers and even micro and small businesses would find it difficult to comply, in the first place, given the restrictions on movement.

“Ang talo kasi rito iyong mga indibidwal at maliliit na negosyo na limitado ang kapasidad na kumpletuhin ang mga requirements dahil sa lockdown. So para sa kanila, walang bearing ang no-penalty amendments dahil baka mismong pag-file hindi nila magawa,” she said.

The senator also said that even corporate taxpayers would be pressed for time in adjusting their payments to the lower rates provided as relief by the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Law, which President Rodrigo Duterte only signed on March 26. The BIR released the law’s draft implementing rules and regulations on Tuesday.

Binay also stressed that a deadline extension does not mean non-payment.

“Hindi naman dahil extended ay hindi na magbabayad. Those who are able to will file and pay. Ang panawagan lang naman natin is not to penalize those who are unable to comply because of the difficulties presented by the lockdown,” she said.

Based on the BIR’s monthly collection goal, the agency aims to collect P235.237 billion in April.

The BIR said taxpayers or assigned officers can also use their electronic signatures in filing returns, attachments, and other documents needed, which will be considered as actual signatures.

It recently allowed taxpayers to file their returns and make payments anywhere, or even outside the area covered by Revenue District Offices where they are registered, without incurring penalties.

BSP issues digital banking license for Overseas Filipino Bank

Robie de Guzman   •   April 5, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Overseas Filipino Bank (OFBank) has officially become the first branchless digital-only bank in the country’s history after securing a digital banking license from the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the Department of Finance (DOF) said.

OFBank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), secured a digital banking license last March 25, the DOF said in a statement on Monday.

Prior to that, the bank was able to commence its banking operations in June last year using its then-existing license to operate as a thrift bank.

OFBank, under Executive Order (EO) No. 44 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in September 2017, was created to establish a policy bank dedicated to providing financial products and services tailored to the requirements of overseas Filipinos.

“This milestone in the country’s banking history not only fulfills President Duterte’s campaign pledge to create a bank that caters to overseas Filipinos but will also help the Philippines leapfrog to the digital economy,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said.

“When President Duterte said he would create a bank that would serve overseas-based Filipinos, he wanted a bank that would be a trailblazer in terms of modernizing and expanding the scope of the services it offers to them,” he added.

OFBank was launched virtually in June last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the Philippines’ first branchless and digital-centric government bank, the DOF said.

While fine-tuning its operations, systems, and processes to enable its official transition into a digital bank, OFBank operated as a thrift bank, the DOF said.

In December 2020, the BSP issued Circular No. 1105 containing the guidelines on the establishment of digital banks, clearing the way for OFBank to apply for a license as a digital bank.

OFBank offers four digital products and services that include a digital onboarding system with artificial intelligence (DOBSAI), which allows the real-time opening of a mobile banking deposit account on supported iPhone or Android devices.

Aside from deposit savings accounts, OFBank’s digital services also include fund transfers, bill payments, and applications for multi-purpose loans, the DOF said.

OFBank’s global digital reach spans 112 countries, with its clients able to access online the services of 763 merchants onboarded in its mobile application via the LinkBiz.Portal, it added.

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