By Ellson Quismorio
Several House members have taken up the cudgels for “small time” online sellers amid the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) plan to have them registered and taxed.
Valenzuela 2nd district Rep. Weslie Gatchalian, chairman of the House Committee on Trade and Industry, has assured such sellers online that their interests would be upheld and protected.
“This committee will always protect the interest of the thousands of MSMEs lalung-lalo na sa pandemic (especially during this pandemic),” he said during a recent panel hearing, referring to medium, small, and micro entrepreneurs.
“I know maraming MSMEs natin ay out of jobs, maraming mga negosyong maliliit at kiosks ang nagsasara. Marami rin po ang gumagamit ng Internet to do business and survive (I know a lot of MSMEs lost the ability to hire, a lot of small businesses and kiosks closed down. A lot of people are using the Internet to do business and survive),” he said.
Gatchalian recently filed House Bill (HB) No.6122, or the proposed “Act protecting consumers and merchants engaged in internet transactions, creating for this purpose the eCommerce Bureau and appropriating funds therefor.” Once established, the eCommerce Bureau will exercise regulatory powers over sellers in online platforms such as Lazada, Zalora, and even Facebook Marketplace.
While the exact coverage of the proposed law stills needs to be determined via technical working group (TWG), Gatchalian has guaranteed that it won’t include the common peddler who doesn’t have a huge cache or a “commercial quantity” of products to sell.
“Kung mayroon tayong lumang gamit, for example cellphone, isang individual ay gustong i-dispose lang, binenta sa isang buyer, eto po ay hindi natin kinocover. Pero kung itong individual po ay ginagawa na po itong negosyo at commercial quantity na rin, let’s say 100 na cellphone, yan po ay magiging covered nitong HB (If an individual just wants to dispose old belongings, for example a cellphone, and sells it, we won’t cover that. But if the individual is making business out of it and has a commercial quantity, let’s say 100 cellphones, that will be covered by this HB),” he explained.
Lawyer Goyo Larrazabal, whom the Trade committee sought legal comment for the bill, lauded the chairman’s remarks and hinted that it would appease a lot of online sellers.
“That was a very important clarification because if you look at discussions online now, that’s mainly to concern of some individuals because they think that they will be covered,” Larrazabal said.
“There are some who engage in online selling not as a business but only to augment their current cash flow. They sell to dispose of things that they may not need. So if you…make them fall under [those required] to register, it might not be a good thing for these individuals,” he noted.
‘They don’t earn much’
In the same hearing, ACT-Teachers Party-List Rep. France Castro also voiced out her concern for the online sellers who are simply just trying to make ends meet.
“I’m happy kung tungkol lang sa [commercial] quantity yung gusto natin [i-cover] kasi mayroon namang simple lang na nag-oonline selling, na konti rin naman yung kinikita (I’m happy if we just intend to cover those with commercial quantity because there are the simple online sellers who don’t earn much at all),” she said.
Castro said these include people who recently lost their jobs or livelihood because of the ongoing crisis.
It remains to be seen how the proposed eCommerce Bureau–which is still a good ways off–would affect Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 60-2020 issued by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) last June 1.
Through the directive, the BIR gave all online sellers until July 31 to register and pay the required taxes based on their past transactions. There will be no distinctions on the merchants’ size of operations.
House Assistant Majority Floor Leader, ACT-CIS Party-List Rep. Niña Taduran has castigated the agency for the memo, saying it’s not timely because a lot of those selling online are just forced to do so.
“These online sellers just want to put food on the table. This might even be just a temporary activity for them until they find a more stable job,” said Taduran.
“I know that every business should be registered and consequently pay taxes pursuant to the Tax Code. But setting an immediate deadline and warning them of stiff penalty is insensitive. Let the people recover first from the financial beating of this pandemic,” she added.
The former broadcast journalist also doubted that the online sellers who would choose to follow this rule would have an easy time fulfilling the BIR requirements, given the restrictions of the quarantine.
“And at this time, when we are discouraging people to go outside, it will be difficult for them to process all the requirements needed for their registration with the July 31, 2020 deadline,” she pointed out.