MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed support to the passage of the proposed revisions to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) and the Bank Secrecy Law, as well as the planned automatic exchange of information with foreign tax authorities.
The three proposals have been included in the list of Duterte’s priority measures following his recent meeting with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino told Palace reporters in a weekly economic briefing.
“There are three pieces that we are advocating. It could happen that they all get passed in one law or in complementary law,” Lambino said. “The President agreed that these are priority measures.
This developed following the Senate’s revelation that there was an influx of money laundered in the country through the controversial operation of the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).
Duterte also made the decision in light of POGOs’ supposed defiance to pay the right taxes to government.
Lambino said the proposals for automatic exchange of information and for amendments to Republic Act (RA) 9160 or AMLA and RA 1405 or the Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits would arm the government with “stronger monitoring and enforcement tools” to fight tax evasion and other financial crimes.
He expressed hope that Congress would act swiftly on Duterte’s priority measures aimed at strengthening the country’s financial system.
He added that Duterte would urge lawmakers to certify the measures as urgent, as soon as they come up with a committee report on the proposals.
“Well, the certificate of urgency comes when there’s actually a committee report already. Committee report number. So, we look forward to working with Congress in making this a high priority para po ma-address natin itong mga issue na ito (to address the issues plaguing the country),” Lambino said.
Duterte has been repeatedly urged to order the closure of POGOs following the influx of dirty money into the country through the online gaming industry.
Under RA 9160, the State is mandated to protect and preserve the integrity and confidentiality of bank accounts and to ensure that the Philippines will not be used as a money laundering site for the proceeds of any unlawful activity.
RA 1405, meantime, forbids the disclosure of or inquiry into deposits with any banking institution, unless the depositor gives permission or a competent court orders the examination of bank accounts.
No direct link yet between POGOs, laundered money
Duterte on Monday believed that there is no corruption in POGOs, despite several issues hurled against the online gaming industry.
On Tuesday, Duterte insisted that POGOs are “clean,” and stressed that the government continues to benefit from tax collections from the offshore gaming firms.
Sought to react to Duterte’s remarks, Lambino said “the dots have to be connected” yet to establish the “direct link” between POGOs and the billions of pesos laundered in the country.
“I think the POGO and money coming in, the direct link between them is to be established still,” Lambino said. “And in order to connect all of these dots, we need to amend those laws and we need to lift absolute bank secrecy and institutionalize the automatic exchange of information.”
PHP18-billion unpaid taxes
At present, there are 60 POGOs licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) in the country.
Lambino admitted that majority of the 60 licensed POGOs failed to pay roughly PHP18 billion in withholding income taxes in 2018.
He, however, said the challenge would be addressed, if Congress pass “as soon as possible” the proposed measure of Albay Rep. Joey Salceda that seeks the imposition of 5-percent franchise tax on revenues generated by POGOs.
Lambino said the DOF fully supports the efforts to increase the franchise tax on POGOs.
“By virtue of registering with Pagcor, BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) considers them as having operations here in the Philippines. And therefore, they should be paying the 5 percent franchise tax. Congressman Joey Salceda’s proposed measure makes it clear that there is no doubt that they owe the 5 percent franchise tax,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. (PNA)