By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent
The government, ignoring the call to deport illegal foreign workers in the country who are mostly Chinese, is about to silently legalize their stay by requiring these foreign nationals to pay income taxes like everybody else.
Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III said various government agencies are now working closely to ensure that foreigners illegally working in off-shore gaming, construction and other industries are paying income taxes.
Dominguez revealed that the list of foreign nationals working for service providers of Philippine off-shore gaming operations is being consolidated and reconciled by those involved in screening, providing work permits and registering them in the country.
“If we get all that (information]) then we can begin to collect taxes, enforcing the law on these foreign workers who are operating here. Isn’t that what we really want to do here, enforce the law?” Dominguez was quoted as saying.
The agencies said to be involved in the undertaking included the Department of Foreign Affairs, which screens and issues visas to foreign nationals entering the country; Department of Justice, which oversees the Bureau of Immigration that grants short-term special work permits to foreigners; Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), which issues alien employment permits; state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which has a list of licensed POGO operators; Department of Trade and Industry, which oversees the country’s special economic zones where some of the on-line gaming operations are; and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that registers these operators.
Dominguez said “a good starting point” would be to trace the employers of these foreign workers so that a portion of their salaries could be withheld and turned over to the government as partial payment of their income taxes.
Besides ensuring that foreign nationals comply with tax laws, the Finance chief explained that it was imperative for the government to find out who and where all these alien workers are given national security implications.
It was found out during a top-level Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) meeting that there were 54 on-line gaming licensees, of which 10 were local and 44 off-shore.
Only seven local operators and eight of the offshore licensees were registered with the BIR, tax agency, he added.
Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra said not less than 95,000 foreign nationals had been issued temporary work permits as on-line gaming employees as of June last year.
Pagcor Chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo committed to provide a complete list of, and information about, on-line gaming service providers and require them to provide a list of their foreign workers and their respective salaries.
SEC Deputy Commissioner Javey Paul Francisco, for his part, pledged to provide a list of corporations registered as on-line gaming agents, while Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez said the Department would give the BIR a list of foreign nationals working in economic zones.
At DoLE, Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello said he would immediately convene an inter-agency task force to consolidate and reconcile lists to be provided by various agencies.
Dominguez said the Finance department and members of the task force would meet after 30 days, during which a complete and clean list of foreign nationals working in off-shore gaming operations is expected to be presented.
The BIR wants authorities to strictly enforce registration rules for these operations amid concerns that the industry has become a conduit for undocumented workers from China.
Pagcor, in particular, has been asked to verify that the gaming firms have been officially enrolled with the BIR before the regulator extends their licenses.
Labor officials told a Senate inquiry that some 50,000 of the 115,000 alien employment permits issued from 2015 to 2017 went to Chinese nationals.
On-line gaming is one of the factors that contributed to the rise of Chinese workers in the Philippines, the BI noted.
President Duterte had rejected calls to deport these Chinese nationals, rationalizing that there are as many Filipinos staying illegally in China.