By Mario B. Casayuran
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee flexed its muscles on Tuesday and demanded from government revenue collecting agencies to submit their quarterly tax and duty collections on imports following revelations that P905 billion in revenues were not paid by importers in a five-year period.
Sen. Richard J. Gordon, committee chairman, announced the move during a public hearing on the privilege speech of Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson on the alleged widespread monthly payola given to selected Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials and personnel by importers and brokers, and a Senate resolution on the ability of a smuggling syndicate to bring in P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China in May last year.
“We will remain open so that every quarter we get progress reports from the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) and the customs bureau on the ‘tsunami’ leakage (of tax and duty collections from imports),” Gordon said.
The Blue Ribbon chair said he would ask Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and Blue Ribbon Committee vice chairman, to sit together and determine if there are improvements made by the two revenue collecting agencies.
Gordon said the Duterte administration should not have pushed for the passage of the TRAIN (Tax Reform on Acceleration and Inclusion) that has a potential revenue take of P134 billion had the P905 billion in lost revenues been collected.
The government could have used the funds to buy fighter jets, frigates, increased the salaries of teachers and improve other services that Filipinos need.
During the hearing, Gordon showed a power point presentation on the potential revenue loss per industry, all abetted by widespread corruption.
Josephine Virrey, senior trade and industry development specialist of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), said widespread smuggling, misdeclaration, and misclassification, among others, negatively affect the economy.
Virrey said smuggling is widespread and should be stopped because it is one of the reasons foreign investors do not want to come to the country as it not only affects business but even leads to closure of local industries and loss of jobs.
Virrey said DTI Secretary Ramon S. Lopez is currently in Australia asking Australian businessmen to come and invest in the country,
Gordon and Virrey agree that the Philippines lost out to Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia in terms of foreign direct investments (FDIs) and is third at the bottom among Southeast Asian countries in terms of ease in doing business.
Customs Commissioner Isidro S. Lapeña said about 50 percent of potential revenues are lost at the waterfront.
He stressed that reforms he has instituted since he took over BOC have resulted in good revenue collection “and there is much more to be done and we have an all-time high collection.”
His “one-strike” policy against erring BOC personnel has also resulted in the reassignment of about 812 personnel.
Recently, Lapeña replaced three district collectors assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), Port of Surigao, and Port of Zamboanga – for failing to meet the revenue collection target for February.
Gordon said he would file a bill that would mandate the BIR and BOC to coordinate their efforts in tracing the movements of imports in order to increase revenue collections through the payment of correct taxes and duties.