On Tuesday, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) stated that income from playing online games like Axie Infinity would be taxed. The idea isn’t very popular amongst Axie players. Now the community has started asking questions like: “Can I be compelled to register myself as an Axie player and pay tax? What if I won’t let them know that I play Axie? How do I know how much tax will I pay from my earnings?“.
Let’s explore these questions and the potential answer based on the legalities and facts.
Firstly, the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 (R.A. 8424) Section 23 paragraph A and F states that:
(A) a citizen of the Philippines residing therein is taxable on all income derived from sources within and without the Philippines;
(F) A foreign corporation, whether engaged or not in trade or business in the Philippines, is taxable only on income derived from sources within the Philippines.
These provisions tell us that in the Philippines, all “income” received is subject to taxes – regardless of the source. Now, let us start answering the questions.
Yes. During the PTV News interview with BIR spokesperson Atty. Marissa Cabreros reminded the people about the Revenue Memorandum Circular (RMC) No. 97-2021 that clarifies the taxation of any income received by social media influencers, including other forms of services done online. According to her, this includes players in online games such as Axie Infinity. The spokesperson also warned disobedient people that they would be subject to penalties for late registration, late filing, and late payment of taxes. Worst case scenario, the BIR can file a criminal case against individuals for non-compliance. The criminal cases can be for the unlawful pursuit of business, non-issuance of official receipt, or tax evasion, all of which potentially result in fines and imprisonment under the Tax Code.
During that same interview, the spokesperson also mentioned that individuals and corporations in any form in the digital arena who post and do live streaming on social media platforms could easily be traced by the BIR. However, in terms of Axie Infinity players, this will be a challenge. So basically, they expect you to report how much you earn from playing the game as converted from SLP to Peso.
Sky Mavis, the Vietnamese Studio that created Axie Infinity, is a foreign corporation and is unregistered under BIR. That is why BIR plans to create a new tax registration system for foreign firms (source: https://business.inquirer.net/329491/dof-axie-infinity-players-must-pay-income-tax-from-trading-pets-2). This will be another challenge for the BIR since Sky Mavis does not earn any cents from their players, and the Treasury does not fully belong to Sky Mavis. It belongs to the community. Why? Because the balances will be rewards for the players and stakeholders when community staking launches later this year. Moreover, ETH and AXS hold all of their assets. These two coins cannot be converted into a fiat currency by Sky Mavis.
Now the follow-up questions will be:
So far, the BIR has no way to trace “silent players” since the spokesperson said that online live streamers and other individuals who publicize themselves as players would be easily caught.
So what if I hide and remain silent about being an Axie player that earns money from the game? Can they use “AMLA” to investigate my bank/s?
Today, we cannot tell the extent to which the BIR can investigate to identify if an individual receives income from Axie Infinity or other play-to-earn online games. Remember that you cannot be compelled if you are not “identified” as a player that receives income from the game.
AMLA or the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 investigates money laundering and other financial crimes to protect financial institutions and deter criminals from making the Philippines a money laundering site for criminal proceeds. However, citizens are protected under the Bank Secrecy Law or R.A. 1405 (https://lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra1955/ra_1405_1955.html), which prohibits the disclosure of all deposits of whatever nature with banks or banking institutions in the Philippines, including investments in bonds issued by the Government of the Philippines, its political subdivisions and its instrumentalities as to those are considered as an absolutely confidential nature and may not be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office, except upon written permission of the depositor, or in cases of impeachment, or upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or in cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation. (Sec. 2, R.A. 1405).
An important reminder will be: We cannot forever avoid tax (tax avoidance) since we cannot tell what the future holds. Let’s say that if in 10 or 20 years, and the BIR already has the way to identify earning play-to-earn gamers, no matter how long it is that they have been earning from the game, those players will still be subject to criminal cases such as Tax Evasion (https://lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra1992/ra_7642_1992.html). Why? “It is because the point of reckoning with tax evasion cases is the point of discovery, not the point of commission. It is when the BIR discovered it, not when you did it.” (Atty. Mike David, during a live discussion about tax in crypto in Taxumo Facebook Page: https://fb.watch/7BKVZMNtsh/ )
Section 5 of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN Law (Sec 24 of NIRC as amended) provides the tax rate derived for each taxable year.
Individuals having an annual income of less than ₱250,000 (₱20,833 per month) will be tax-free. If you earn over ₱250,000 but not over ₱400,000 (₱20,833 – ₱33,333 per month), you will be taxed 20% of the excess over ₱250,000.
Now let us say that you earn ₱30,000 per month from Axie Infinity, ₱1,833.4 of it will go to tax. Let’s break down the values. ₱30,000 – ₱20,833 = ₱9,167. ₱9,167 is the excess over the tax-free income. Now we get the 20% of ₱9,167 to get ₱1,833.4 that belongs to tax.
If you earn over ₱400,000 (₱33,333 per month) but not over ₱800,000 (₱66,000 per month), you will pay ₱30,000 plus 25% of the excess over ₱400,000. Let’s say that you earn ₱40,000 per month from Axie Infinity – ₱4,166 of it will go to your tax.
These are just exemplars. If you want to calculate the tax for your annual/monthly earnings, refer to the tax rate provided by Sec. 5 of the TRAIN Law.
Unfortunately, ignorance of the law excuses no one from non-compliance, so it’s a good thing we have been reminded of these existing laws.