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What’s new with Philippine investment incentives

2022 has ushered in several changes to the Philippines: a new administration, the winding down of the COVID-19 pandemic, and updates to the country’s investment incentive strategy.

Investment incentives are government concessions meant to attract inbound capital. Taking advantage of these incentives is integral to strategic business optimization. From the relaxing of foreign equity restrictions, to the 2022 Strategic Investment Priority Plan, to environmental laws and more, entrepreneurs should be aware of every opportunity to decrease the cost of doing business in the Philippines.

ENCOURAGING FOREIGN EQUITYForeigners have been gradually given more freedom to invest. They may enter industries previously exclusive to Filipino citizens, subject to reciprocal treatment. Instead of dreading competition, organizations should use this opportunity to seek more funding for their operations. 

Amendments to the Public Service Act limited the activities that are considered public utilities, namely the distribution of electricity, transmission of electricity, petroleum and petroleum products pipeline transmission systems, water pipeline distribution systems and wastewater pipeline systems, including sewerage pipeline systems, seaports, and public utility vehicles. This effectively removes from the “public utility” classification the domestic shipping, railways and subways, airlines, expressways, tollways, and transport network vehicles services, among others. These can now be fully owned by foreigners.

Telecommunications and other vital services are subject to safeguards for critical structure and the reciprocity rule. On the other hand, the amended Retail Liberalization Act grants foreign enterprises the right to invest in retail trade businesses with a minimum paid-up capital of P25 million. If it owns more than one physical store, the investment per store should be at least P10 million. 

If successful, these equity market liberalizations could lead to increased foreign direct investment (FDI). A higher FDI means an improved exchange rate for the peso. Furthermore, investment incentives can also be used to boost job creation as well as job quality. The latter is crucial amid rising underemployment rates.

For example, the amended Foreign Investments Act of 1991 lets foreigners invest in micro and small Domestic Market Enterprises (DMEs) with a minimum paid-up capital of $100,000.00. The DMEs should either involve advanced technology; or be endorsed as startup enablers; or directly employ at least 15 Filipinos, with a majority of its employees being Filipino citizens. This has been amended from the previous requirement of at least 50 direct Filipino employees. 

AN OVERVIEW OF THE 2022 SIPPTo effectively implement the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Law, Memorandum Order No. 61 was issued to approve the 2022 Strategic Investment Priority Plan (SIPP). It grants investment incentives to entities registered as Registered Business Enterprises (RBEs). RBEs are categorized as either Export Enterprises (EEs) if 70% of their output is directly or indirectly exported, or as DMEs if the situation is otherwise.

The regulatory power of investment incentives can be observed in the following aspects of the SIPP and the CREATE Law:

Export Enterprise vs. Domestic Market Enterprise. To address the trade deficit, EEs get additional benefits over DMEs. EEs get VAT incentives and have the option to avail of either a 5% tax on their gross income earned, in lieu of all national and local taxes, or Enhanced Deductions (ED) for 10 years following the end of the income tax holiday (ITH) period. Meanwhile, DMEs have no VAT incentives, and can only avail of the ED for five years after the lapse of the ITH period.

Provincial benefits. The period to enjoy the benefits of the 2022 SIPP depends on both the kind of RBE (whether DME or EE), as well as the location of the registered project or activity. Following the push towards rural development as embodied in the Balik Probinsya program, the CREATE Law gives longer ITH periods to RBEs operating outside of the National Capital Region and other metropolitan areas.

Priority activities in the tier system. The administration aims to create a self-sufficient Philippines. Thus, longer benefits are granted to industries such as agriculture to promote food security, healthcare to better withstand future pandemics, power to reduce reliance on imported fuel, and higher tier activities.  

PUSHING FOR A GREEN ECONOMYThe right of Filipinos to a balanced and healthful ecology goes hand-in-hand with the need for economic development. Hence, the current administration’s socioeconomic agenda includes the pursuit of a green economy. It is willing to compensate sustainable, eco-friendly businesses through investment incentives under the Renewable Energy (RE) Law, as implemented by Revenue Regulations (RR) No. 07-2022.

Under the RE Law, RE developers may avail of a seven-year ITH. Afterward, the developer is to pay 10% corporate tax on taxable income, provided that the resulting savings are passed on to end-users in the form of lower power rates. They may also avail of the incentives under the CREATE Law, e.g., four to seven years of ITH, depending on location and industry tier, followed by five years of Enhanced Deductions. The main consideration in determining which incentive to apply for is the time-bound incentives under CREATE Law which is not applicable under the RE Law.

In addition, the Philippine Green Jobs Act of 2016 promotes the creation of “green jobs,” or employment which contributes to environmental preservation. Under RR No. 05-2019, businesses offering green jobs will be granted an additional deduction equal to 50% of the total expenses for skills training and research development. The law also provides that capital equipment that are actually, directly and exclusively used in the promotion of green jobs, may be imported free of taxes, though the government has not yet issued any implementing rules for this provision.

BALANCING INCENTIVES WITH SUSTAINABLE GROWTHInvestment incentives have been introduced by the government in a conscious effort to remain globally competitive. Granting incentives must nonetheless be balanced with sustainable growth.

Every concession comes with an equivalent benefit to ordinary Filipinos, either through employment opportunities or through eco-friendly communities. Companies have just as much to gain from investment incentives as their foreign counterparts and taking advantage of tax and regulatory benefits is integral to any business strategy.

This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Cheryl Edeline C. Ong is a tax partner and Karen Mae L. Calam-Ibañez is a tax senior manager of SGV & Co.

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