House probe on alleged ABS-CBN tax violations 'pointless': tax expert

Bruce Rodriguez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 03 2020 02:41 AM

ABS-CBN headquarters in Quezon City taken on June 30, 2020. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — A tax expert believes the conduct of a House probe on alleged tax violations of ABS-CBN Corporation is "pointless," considering that the media and entertainment conglomerate has received compliance certifications from regulators.

"PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) chief Charito Plaza herself certified that ABS-CBN applied and qualified, therefore, availed of the tax incentive and in fact was renewed just this March 2020,” said Mon Abrea, founding chairman of the Asian Consulting Group. 

ABS-CBN Corp., whose broadcast operations were ordered shut down by government regulators on May 5, remitted P15.3 billion in taxes from 2016 to 2019 alone, said Assistant Commissioner Manuel Mapoy of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). 

Critics have accused ABS-CBN of allegedly using a subsidiary, Big Dipper, to avoid paying the correct taxes. But Plaza told lawmakers this week that all of the tax incentives enjoyed by Big Dipper were allowed under the law.

Some lawmakers also raised the network's compromise agreements with the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and also accused it of using its foundation "Lingkod Kapamilya" as a tax shield. 

"It cannot be a fellow taxpayer or a lawmaker who's supposed to be knowledgeable of tax laws who will decide or accuse you of not paying taxes correctly. It's wrong to say that, 'ABS-CBN paid less compared to this company or this other broadcasting company, so ABS-CBN is not compliant or violated the tax laws,' it doesn't work that way," he said.

Abrea warned this could discourage large taxpayers from paying the proper taxes, as the process has been "politicized."

"Imagine yourself, if you are in the position of ABS-CBN, your books, your payments are all being discussed in public after diligently doing your part, you're now being persecuted because they don't like you or politics is now playing a role," he added.

He likewise urged government to reexamine its position as it may continue to lose needed tax revenues. 

"How much are we losing because of what's happening with ABS-CBN as the biggest broadcasting company?" 

"I hope the President will really step in. He was the one who said that the franchise will not be renewed. So whether he's involved directly or not, he is our president," he said.

ABS-CBN Corp. has no current tax delinquency and, with the rest of the companies under the ABS-CBN Group, infused a combined P71.5 billion in taxes to government coffers in 17 years, congressmen scrutinizing its application for a new broadcast franchise were told earlier.

The company also set the record straight that ABS-CBN Corp. did not have a "negative 5-percent effective tax rate for 2018," an allegation that has been raised in the joint House hearing as well as in social media. 

"A negative tax rate is not possible since corporations like ABS-CBN always pay withholding taxes among others," Abrea added.

ABS-CBN paid P164 million--not negative P84 million--that year, said Ricardo Tan, the group's chief financial officer.

Abrea also had this to say on Facebook on Wedesday:

"Hindi ABS-CBN ang hindi nagbayad ng tax, POGO at marami pang big time tax evaders, smugglers at corrupt na pulitiko. Baka po kilala nyo sila? Tulungan natin ang BIR na makakolekta ng buwis lalo na para sa #COVID19PH #WeHealAsOne."