Legally Yours,  Taxation Law

Tolentino v. Secretary of Finance

Tolentino v. Secretary of Finance

Arturo Tolentino v. Secretary of Finance and Commissioner of Internal Revenue
G.R. No. 115455; October 30, 1995
Mendoza, J.:

FACTS:

The present case involves motions seeking reconsideration of the Court’s decision dismissing the petitions for the declaration of unconstitutionality of R.A. No. 7716, otherwise known as the Expanded Value-Added Tax Law. The motions, of which there are 10 in all, have been filed by the several petitioners.

The Philippine Press Institute, Inc. (PPI) contends that by removing the exemption of the press from the VAT while maintaining those granted to others, the law discriminates against the press. At any rate, it is averred, “even nondiscriminatory taxation of constitutionally guaranteed freedom is unconstitutional”, citing in support of the case of Murdock v. Pennsylvania.

Chamber of Real Estate and Builders Associations, Invc., (CREBA), on the other hand, asserts that R.A. No. 7716 (1) impairs the obligations of contracts, (2) classifies transactions as covered or exempt without reasonable basis and (3) violates the rule that taxes should be uniform and equitable and that Congress shall “evolve a progressive system of taxation”.

Further, the Cooperative Union of the Philippines (CUP), argues that legislature was to adopt a definite policy of granting tax exemption to cooperatives that the present Constitution embodies provisions on cooperatives. To subject cooperatives to the VAT would, therefore, be to infringe a constitutional policy.

ISSUE:

Whether or not, based on the aforementioned grounds of the petitioners, the Expanded Value-Added Tax Law should be declared unconstitutional.

RULING:

No. With respect to the first contention, it would suffice to say that since the law granted the press a privilege, the law could take back the privilege anytime without offense to the Constitution. The reason is simple: by granting exemptions, the State does not forever waive the exercise of its sovereign prerogative. Indeed, in withdrawing the exemption, the law merely subjects the press to the same tax burden to which other businesses have long ago been subject. The PPI asserts that it does not really matter that the law does not discriminate against the press because “even nondiscriminatory taxation on constitutionally guaranteed freedom is unconstitutional.” The Court was speaking in that case (Murdock v. Pennsylvania) of a license tax, which, unlike an ordinary tax, is mainly for regulation. Its imposition on the press is unconstitutional because it lays a prior restraint on the exercise of its right. The VAT is, however, different. It is not a license tax. It is not a tax on the exercise of a privilege, much less a constitutional right. It is imposed on the sale, barter, lease or exchange of goods or properties or the sale or exchange of services and the lease of properties purely for revenue purposes. To subject the press to its payment is not to burden the exercise of its right any more than to make the press pay income tax or subject it to general regulation is not to violate its freedom under the Constitution.

Anent the first contention of CREBA, it has been held in an early case that even though such taxation may affect particular contracts, as it may increase the debt of one person and lessen the security of another, or may impose additional burdens upon one class and release the burdens of another, still the tax must be paid unless prohibited by the Constitution, nor can it be said that it impairs the obligation of any existing contract in its true legal sense. It is next pointed out that while Section 4 of R.A. No. 7716 exempts such transactions as the sale of agricultural products, food items, petroleum, and medical and veterinary services, it grants no exemption on the sale of real property which is equally essential. The sale of food items, petroleum, medical and veterinary services, etc., which are essential goods and services was already exempt under Section 103, pars. (b) (d) (1) of the NIRC before the enactment of R.A. No. 7716. Petitioner is in error in claiming that R.A. No. 7716 granted exemption to these transactions while subjecting those of petitioner to the payment of the VAT. Finally, it is contended that R.A. No. 7716 also violates Art. VI, Section 28(1) which provides that “The rule of taxation shall be uniform and equitable. The Congress shall evolve a progressive system of taxation”. Nevertheless, equality and uniformity of taxation mean that all taxable articles or kinds of property of the same class be taxed at the same rate. The taxing power has the authority to make reasonable and natural classifications for purposes of taxation. To satisfy this requirement it is enough that the statute or ordinance applies equally to all persons, firms, and corporations placed in similar situation. Furthermore, the Constitution does not really prohibit the imposition of indirect taxes which, like the VAT, are regressive. What it simply provides is that Congress shall “evolve a progressive system of taxation.” The constitutional provision has been interpreted to mean simply that “direct taxes are . . . to be preferred [and] as much as possible, indirect taxes should be minimized.” The mandate to Congress is not to prescribe, but to evolve, a progressive tax system.

As regards the contention of CUP, it is worth noting that its theory amounts to saying that under the Constitution cooperatives are exempt from taxation. Such theory is contrary to the Constitution under which only the following are exempt from taxation: charitable institutions, churches, and parsonages, by reason of Art. VI, §28 (3), and non-stock, non-profit educational institutions by reason of Art. XIV, §4 (3).
With all the foregoing ratiocinations, it is clear that the subject law bears no constitutional infirmities and is thus upheld.

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