Taxwise Or Otherwise

Following the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic, President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued Proclamation No. 929 on March 16, placing the country under a State of Calamity for six months and ordering an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) for Luzon to significantly limit the movement of people in the hopes of preventing the spread of the virus.

With the declaration, immediate action is expected from the government, especially when border closures from the lockdown hamper the delivery of essential goods and medical supplies. There is news of donated medical supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from neighboring countries, yet calls for more PPE due to scarcity are not unusual on social media. It raises the question of whether the government has implemented any policy to expedite the release of foreign donations and medical imports to reach the vulnerable.

What is the current policy on imports? Under the revised Customs Modernization and Tariff Act of the Philippines, imports are generally subject to customs duties and taxes unless otherwise exempted. One such exemption is imports of Relief Consignments (RC) during a State of Calamity.

RC refers to goods such as food, medicine, equipment, and materials for shelter, which are donated or leased to government institutions and accredited private entities for free distribution or use by victims of calamities. However, there are set criteria and procedures which must be followed to avail of duty and tax exemptions. Otherwise, the imports will be processed as normal and will, therefore, be subject to customs tax and duties.

In a bid to make clearance of RCs a matter of priority, various department of the Executive Branch, Bureau of Customs (BoC), and National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council issued Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 1-2020 on March 16 for the expedient and transparent release of RCs. Below are the salient points of the inter-agency policy:

• To avail of the duty and tax exemption, donated RCs such as food, medicine, medical supplies, clothing, and other in-kind donations must be imported during the state of calamity; must be donated only to a Qualified Donee (i.e., a government agency or private entities accredited by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Health, and Office of the Civil Defense); and must be for free distribution or use by the affected population.

• RCs which are classified as equipment and materials for shelter must be intended for a specific calamity or disaster-affected area during relief and rescue operation or leased to government institutions or registered, licensed, and accredited private entities.

• The Philippine International Humanitarian Assistance Reception Center One Stop Shop, currently set up at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport customs house, will serve as the facilitator of donated RCs and will be directly responsible for the issuance of permits and identifying entries as RC, including expedited release from customs custody. However, it is still the responsibility of the BoC to release the RCs within 24 hours from receipt of the RC Supplemental form based on the established procedures.

To further expedite the clearance of significant imports, the BoC issued Customs Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 07-2020 on March 6 to allow provisional declarations. A Provisional Goods Declaration (PGD) is an incomplete declaration allowing the tentative release of shipments as long as the missing information or documents are provided within a reasonable time. It is authorized under the following circumstances:

(1) When no regulatory permit, clearance or license, have been presented at the time of lodgement, provided the importer has filed the application for such permits before departure of goods from the country of origin, before or after the arrival of the goods in the Philippines;

(2) When the Tax Exemption Indorsement from the Department of Finance or Authority to Release Imported Goods from the Bureau of Internal Revenue has not yet been issued, but an application has been filed at the time of lodgement; and

(3) Where the declarant lacks certain information or documents to make a complete declaration, provided it is not due to the declarant’s fault or negligence, and that the mandatory information and documents are present.

In line with this directive, the BoC issued a Memorandum dated March 18, specifically allowing PGD for RCs, provided the Donee, as defined in the JAO above, issues an undertaking to submit the missing documents within 45 days from the release of the shipment, and to use or distribute these only if cleared by regulatory agencies, in case required.

To align with the BoC’s initiative of expediting the clearance and release of PPE shipments, the FDA issued Advisory No. 2020-420, exempting all foreign donations and company imports of PPEs from securing FDA clearance. The exemption covers face masks, including N95 masks, shoe covers, gloves, head covers, and gowns.

Imports of face masks by companies other than medical device establishments is also exempt from the clearance requirements provided the face masks are used by the employees in the performance of their jobs and are strictly for company use. For imports of PPEs intended for commercial use, the importer need only present his License to Operate and proof of application for notification (such as electronic acknowledgment) for the BoC to release the shipment.

The BoC also extended the validity of accreditations of Stakeholders (Importers and Customs Brokers, among others) that will expire during the ECQ under BoC Memorandum dated March 19. They are likewise given one month from the lifting of the ECQ to submit their renewal application. Generally, an importer whose accreditation has expired will be treated as a new applicant if the renewal is filed after the expiry of its license. New applications are usually subject to a more stringent review than a renewal application. Hence, this initiative is vital for importers of medical supplies, among others, to keep up with the increasing demands from hospitals, health workers, and everyone else concerned, which we expect to increase even after the lifting of the ECQ.

Undeniably, the government must provide protective gear for those in the front lines who risk their lives in duty. With the rising cases of COVID-19 infections, the importation and distribution of medical supplies and equipment has become more urgent than ever. Good policies are useless if not implemented properly since time is of the essence in saving lives. I can only hope that we come out victorious from this crisis, regardless of what the government has done, or what it could do better.

The views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Isla Lipana & Co. The content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific advice.


Toni Rose Capistrano-Flojo is a Manager with the Tax Services Group of Isla Lipana & Co., the Philippine member firm of the PwC network.

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