Task Force draws up initial list of 138K foreign workers in POGOs, other industries

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An interagency task force now checking the number of foreign nationals working for Philippine online gaming operators (POGOs) has come up with an initial list of 138,000 workers employed in these Internet-based operations as well as in other businesses, an apparently untapped subsector that could yield for the government an estimated P32 billion in additional income taxes annually.

In their report to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III during a meeting Friday last week, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) came up with a reconciled list of 138,001 workers, of which 54,241 were issued alien employment permits (AEPs) and another 83,760 granted special working permits (SWPs).

Assuming that each foreign national is earning an average of $1,500 a month and taxed at 25 percent of his or her gross income, Dominguez came up with a rough calculation of P32 billion a year in income taxes to be collected from these workers.

Dominguez said he noticed that the names in the submitted list have no Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs) and their corresponding salaries reported was only around P20,000 each per month, which was “ridiculously low” for skilled foreign workers for POGOs.

Deputy Commissioner Arnel Guballa of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) said the agency will start working on the list to check how many years these workers have been here in the country and whether they have paid taxes for the last two taxable years.

Guballa said the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) has so far submitted a list of 126 out of 205 POGOs, which employ a total of 53,239 foreign workers with an average salary of about P41,000 each.

Victor Padilla, PAGCOR’s senior manager of its policy division, offshore gaming licensing department, said penalties and demerits will be issued to those that have yet to comply with the requirement for them to submit the lists of their respective foreign workers.

PAGCOR will seize the operations of those that remain non-compliant despite repeated warnings, he said.

Guballa said during the meeting that other agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) submitted the names of 52 foreign workers mostly in the construction sector; the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) sent a list of 75 foreign workers; while the Clark Development Corp. (CDC), reported 2,463 foreign workers employed at the Clark and Subic special economic zones (SEZs).

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) and the SEZs in Bataan, Aurora and in other locations all failed to submit their respective lists, Guballa said.

“What you have to do now is to reconcile the entire list. The maximum we know is 138,000. I have a suspicion that this figure is low,” Dominguez said.

He asked the concerned agencies such as the DOLE and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to find ways to reconcile the list by physically checking the establishments where these foreign workers have been hired.

“Enforce the law so we can collect the tax,” Dominguez said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who heads the interagency task force, said the DOLE currently only has 800 law compliance officers (LCOs) to do the job of checking the establishments. He said the DOLE needs 5,000 LCOs.

To ensure that foreign workers comply with tax laws, the BI said their visas will not be renewed unless they submit proof of their income tax payments.

But Dominguez said this will only apply to workers with valid work permits and does not cover those without proper documentation. Hence, the need to physically check establishments for compliance, he added.

BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay said one way to track down foreign workers is for the bureau to get a list of corporations and immediately audit them.

Guballa said they will check both the companies paying the salaries of foreign nationals and countercheck these with their respective lists of employees.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for its part, said that registered companies with foreign hires, particularly gambling firms, will be reported to the BIR and DOLE.

“We have all the data, we just have to put it all together,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez said he expects the task force to come up with a cleaned-up, reconciled list in 30 days, which is in time for their next meeting.