Philippine leader warns 'tax-avoiding' Chinatown

Philippine President Benigno Aquino Friday warned the nation's ethnic Chinese businessmen who are failing to pay the correct amount of tax to stop evading the law or face prosecution.

A recent government investigation led to "strange" and "truly unexpected" findings that just eight percent of member-firms of the Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce paid taxes, he told the association's annual convention.

Six in 10 individual members paid no taxes at all, he added.

"I have to say I was shocked, to say the least, when I learned this, because that would mean that you are making even less than what I receive every month. And can this be correct?" Aquino said, according to an official transcript.

The president said 38 of the 207 member-firms -- along with 14 of the 552 individual members -- filed returns with zero tax due despite "unprecedented economic growth" in 2012, when economic output rose by 6.6 percent.

Many others paid less than 100,000 pesos ($2,446), and some paid less than a thousand pesos ($24), he said.

The government says tax-dodging is a serious problem in the Philippines, where, along with corruption, poor tax collections leave the state unable to pay for basic services and improve facilities like roads and airports.

The ethnic Chinese control large swathes of the Philippine economy and make up about half of the country's 40 richest individuals in the annual Forbes magazine list.

Since Aquino was elected under an anti-corruption platform in 2010, the justice department and the tax bureau have been aggressively filing tax evasion charges against wealthy business people as well as celebrities.

"Gone are the days when your taxes disappeared into the pockets of an unscrupulous few, or when bending the rules may have been the only way for otherwise honest companies to keep operating," Aquino told the association.

"There is still time," he added, referring to the approaching annual deadline next month for filing tax returns.

"After April 15, you will have to deal with (Bureau of Internal Revenue) Commissioner Kim Henares herself and with (Justice) Secretary Leila de Lima at her back."