Republic of the Philippines

CENTRAL BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS Manila

GMA NETWORK, INC.,

Petitioner-Appellant,

-versus-

CBAA CASE NO. M-30 (LBAA Case No. 08-001)

THE LOCAL BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS OF THE CITY OF COTABATO,
Appellee,

-and-

CLEOTILDE B. SAN LUIS, IN HER CAPACITY AS THE CITY TREASURER OF THE CITY OF COTABATO,
Respondent-Appellee. x- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – /

D E C I S I O N

This appeal, received by this Board in on May 12, 2009 via registered

mail, is from the Order of the Local Board of Assessment Appeals of the City

of Cotabato (the “LBAA”) dated October 21, 2008.

Alleging that it received a copy of the assailed Order on April 13, 2009,

herein Petitioner-Appellant further states that:

1. Petitioner-Appellant GMA Network, Inc. (“GMA”) is a grantee of a legislative franchise to operate radio and television broadcasting stations in the country under Republic Act No. 7252, otherwise known as “An Act Granting the Republic Broadcasting System, Inc. A Franchise To Construct, Install, Operate and Maintain Radio and Television Broadcasting Stations in the Philippines” which took effect on 2 March 1992. In particular, Congress granted GMA the license “to construct, install, operate and maintain for commercial purposes and in the public interest, radio and television broadcasting stations in the Philippines with the corresponding auxiliary, special broadcast and other program and distribution services and relay stations, and to install radio telecommunication facilities for private use in its broadcast services” for a term of 25 years;

2. In pursuit of its legislative franchise, GMA acquired lands, constructed buildings and improvements, and placed machineries thereon that are

necessary and essential to the operation of a television network and radio broadcasting stations;

3. In 1998, GMA opened its television (TV) relay station in Org. Compound, Cotabato City where it acquired a building thereon (the “subject property”);

4. The subject property is listed as “Commercial Building” and is being used by GMA as a tower antenna transmitter site;

5. As a result of the change in ownership, a new Tax Declaration (No. GR-25-1156) was issued for the subject property in the name of GMA, the tax under which began in the year 1997;

6. For the period 2007, GMA paid real property taxes on the same property for the years 1999-2007, inclusive, in the principal amount of Php 24,394.43.as shown by Official Receipt No. 7219869-V issued on March 27, 2007 by the Office of the City Treasurer of Cotabato;

7. In year 2006, the Supreme Court promulgated a decision in the case of City Government of Quezon City v. Bayan Telecommunications, Inc. (March 6, 2006, 484 SCRA 169), where the Supreme Court upheld Bayantel’s exemption from real estate tax on its real estate, building and personal property located in Quezon City which are actually, directly and exclusively used in the pursuit of its franchise on the basis of the “exclusive of this franchise” clause found in Bayantel’s legislative franchise;

8. In 2007, the Supreme Court again interpreted the “exclusive of this franchise” clause in the case of Digital Telecommunications Philippines, Inc. (Digitel) v. Province of Pangasinan (February 23, 2007, 516 SCRA 558) as an express exemption from payment of real property taxes on real properties that are exclusively, actually and directly used in pursuit of Digitel’s franchise;

9. Pursuant to the Bayantel and Digitel rulings, GMA served a letter dated March 3, 2008 to respondent treasurer on March 19, 2008 claiming for refund of real property taxes erroneously collected covering the period of 1999-2007, inclusive, in the principal amount of Php 24,394.43 pursuant to Section 253 of R.A. 7160;

10.However, despite the lapse of 60 days from March 29, 2008, respondent treasurer failed to act upon GMA’s claim for refund;

11.On May 19, 2008, GMA filed a Petition dated May 18, 2008 (the “Petition”) before the LBAA to appeal from the respondent treasurer’s denial of GMA’s claim for real property tax refund;

12.On April 13, 2009, GMA received the LBAA’s Order dated October 21, 2008 denying the Petition on the ground of lack of jurisdiction, to wit:
“This petition is filed in the wrong venue. The board does not have jurisdiction over appeals from the decision of the City Treasurer.

“WHEREFORE, for lack of jurisdiction, the instant petition is hereby ordered dismissed.

“SO ORDERED.”

13.Hence, this appeal on the following ground:

THE LBAA OF CATABATO CITY ERRED IN DISMISSING THE INSTANT PETITION OF GMA ON THE GROUND OF LACK OF JURISDICTION.

In accordance with the provisions of Section 4 and 5, Rule IV, of the

Rules and Procedure Before the Central Board of Assessment Appeals, this

Board, in written requests dated June 8, 2009, advised both the City Treasurer

of Cotabato (for her to file her Answer/Comment to the instant appeal within

ten (10) days from her receipt thereof) and the Chairman of the Local Board of

Assessment Appeals for the City of Cotabato (for the latter to forward the

entire original records of LBAA Case No. 08-001 within a similar period of ten

(10) days from receipt of notice). Neither party responded to the said requests.

No matter. According to the narration of facts in GMA’s petition, a copy

of every conceivable document which could be on file with the LBAA of

Cotabato City is attached to, and made an integral part of, the instant appeal

as an Annex or Exhibit.

The Central Board of Assessment Appeals completely agrees with

Petitioner-Appellant’s contention. Appellee Local Board did err in dismissing

GMA’s petition on the ground of lack of jurisdiction. Section 253 of R.A. 7160,

otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, (the “Code”),

provides as follows:

“SEC. 253. Repayment of Excessive Collections. – When an assessment of basic real property tax, or any other tax levied under this Title, is found to be illegal or erroneous and the tax is accordingly reduced or adjusted, the taxpayer may file a written claim for refund or credit for taxes and interests with the provincial or city treasurer within two (2) years from the date the taxpayer is entitled to such reduction or adjustment.

“The provincial or city treasurer shall decide the claim for tax refund or credit within sixty (60) days from receipt thereof. In case the claim for tax refund or credit is denied, the taxpayer may avail of the remedies as provided in Chapter 3, Title II, Book II of this Code.”

The “remedies” mentioned in the second paragraph of Section 253 of

the Code refers to appeals to the Local Board of Assessment Appeals under

Section 226 and, if necessary, to the Central Board of Assessment Appeals

under Section 229, both of the Code, thus:

“SEC. 226 Local Board of Assessment Appeals. – Any owner or person having legal interest in the property who is not satisfied with the action of the provincial, city or municipal assessor in the assessment of his property may, within sixty (60) days from the date of receipt of the written notice of assessment, appeal to the Board of assessment Appeals of the province or city by filing a petition under oath in the form prescribed for the purpose, together with copies of the tax declaration and such affidavits or documents submitted in support of the appeal.”

“SEC. 229. Action by the Local Board of Assessment Appeals. – (a) The Board shall decide the appeal within one hundred twenty (120) days from the date of receipt of such appeal. The Board, after hearing, shall render its decision based on substantial evidence or such relevant evidence on record as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion.”

In relation to Section 253 of the Code, Rule 2 of the 2005 Manual of

Assessment on Real Property and Assessment Operations provides, as

follows:

“RULE 2. Local Board of Assessment Appeals –

SECTION 1. Jurisdiction. – The Local Board shall have original jurisdiction to hear and decide appeals of owners/administrators or real property from the action of the Provincial or City Assessors, or the Municipal Assessors in the Metro Manila Area, in the assessment of their real properties, and from the action of the Provincial or City Treasurers , or Municipal Treasurers in the Metro Manila Area, regarding collection or real property taxes, special levies, or other real property taxes under Title Two, Book II of R.A. No. 7160.

SECTION 2. Person Who May Appeal. – Any owner or administrator of real property, or any person having legal interest therein, who is not satisfied with the action of the provincial, city or municipal assessor in the appraisal/assessment of his property may appeal to the Local Board of Assessment Appeals of the province or city, or municipality within the Metro Manila Area, where the property is located. A real property taxpayer who is aggrieved by the decision, action or inaction of the provincial, city or municipal treasurer over excessive realty tax paid under protest, or on claim for refund or illegally or erroneously collected real property tax, including special levies on real property, may likewise appeal to the Local Board as provided in these rules.

SECTION 4. Period of appeal. – (a) The owner, administrator or person who is not satisfied with the assessment of his property may, within sixty (60) days from the date of receipt of the written notice of assessment, appeal to the Local Board concerned.

(b) Any real property taxpayer who is aggrieved by the decision, action or inaction of the provincial or city treasurer, or municipal treasurer within the Metropolitan Manila Area, on his written claim for refund or credit may appeal to the Local Board concerned as follows:

A. If, within sixty (60) days from the date of receipt by the treasurer concerned of the written claim for refund or credit for tax paid under protest, the treasurer concerned fails to make any decision thereon, the appeal may be made within sixty days from the date of receipt by the treasurer concerned of the said written claim for refund or credit;

B. xxx.” (emphasis supplied)

We, however, have reservations on the wisdom of the provision of

Section 4, paragraph (b), sub-paragraph A of Rule 2 of the 2005 Manual of

Assessment on Real Property and Assessment Operations, quoted

immediately above. Under this provision, it would appear that the appeal of

GMA to the Local Board was filed out of time, or after the lapse of sixty (60)

days from the date of receipt by the treasurer of the written claim for refund or

credit. As GMA admits, the written claim for refund or credit was filed with the

treasurer on March 19, 2008 and the appeal was filed with the Local Board on

May 19, 2008, or sixty-one (61) days after March 19, 2008.

Actually, under the present circumstances, it would be impossible for

GMA to comply with the particular provisions of the above-quoted Rule. The

treasurer had until the last minute of May 18, 2008 (the sixtieth [60th] day from

March 19, 2008) to decide the claim for refund or credit, as the treasurer

actually did by omission. It would have been premature and presumptuous for

GMA to file an appeal with the Local Board on the same day, May 18, 2008, or

even before then. The treasurer could have decided the claim on the sixtieth

(60th) day in favor of or against GMA, or the treasurer may not even act on the

claim at all. The taxpayer-claimant concerned has to wait until the 60-day

period allowed the treasurer concerned expires. The said taxpayer could not

possibly know the action or inaction of the said treasurer at the last minute of

the 60th day.

With due respect to the people who drafted and/or approved the 2005

Manual of Assessment on Real Property and Assessment Operations, we

believe that Section 4, paragraph (b), sub-paragraph A of Rule 2 thereof is

faulty. The sixty-day period within which to appeal (to the LBAA) the adverse

ruling or inaction of a treasurer on a claim for refund or credit under Section

253 of the Code should be counted, not from the date of receipt by the

treasurer of the written claim for refund or credit, but from the date of the

decision of the treasurer concerned – his inaction being considered a negative

decision done on the sixtieth (60th) day after receipt by said treasurer of the

written claim for refund or credit.

While we grant Petitioner-Appellant GMA its prayer to reverse and

set aside the Order of the Local Board of Assessment Appeals of the City of

Cotabato dated October 21, 2008, as the same Order is hereby REVERSED

and SET ASIDE, we could not remand this case back to the Local Board as

such action would entail unnecessary delay in the resolution of the case.

Petitioner-Appellant’s written claim for refund or credit for the realty

taxes alleged to have been erroneously collected by the City Treasurer of

Cotabato is based on the theory that Petitioner-Appellant is exempt from

payment of the real property tax on its properties which are exclusively,

actually and directly used in the pursuit of its franchise.

Petitioner GMA vigorously argues that its real properties which are

actually, directly and exclusively used in the pursuit of its legislative franchise

are exempt from real property taxes pursuant to the Supreme Court rulings in

the Bayantel and Digitel cases.

With all due respect, the Supreme Court committed a glaring error in the

interpretation of the phrase “exclusive of this franchise” found in the tax

provisions of the franchises of Bayantel and Digitel. The Second Division of the

Court interpreted the phrase to mean that Bayantel’s “real properties that are

actually, exclusively and directly used in the pursuit of Bayantel’s franchise are

exempt from payment of the real property taxes.” In the Digitel case, the Third

Division of the Court simply adopted the ruling of the Court’s Third Division in

the Bayantel case.

Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language

Unabridged (1966 ed., p. 793) defines the phrase “exclusive of”

as a preposition meaning “not taking into account: excluding from

consideration (there were four of us exclusive of the guide; exclusive of

artillery)”

Webster’s New World Dictionary, Warner Books Paperback Edition

(1990), and Webster’s New World Pocket Dictionary, Third Edition (1997), both

define the phrase “exclusive of” as “not including”.

Readers’ Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary, First Edition (1994), classifies

the phrase “exclusive of” as a quasi-adverb meaning “not including, not

counting”.

In jurisprudence, a franchise, as a right and privilege, is regarded as

property, separate and distinct from the property which the corporation itself

may acquire. (Fletcher’s Cyclopedia of the Law of Private Corporation, vol. 6A,

pages 427-428, citing Horn Silver Min. Co. vs. New York, 143 U.S. 305 36 L.

Ed. 164 12 Sup. Ct.-403; City of Campbell vs. Arkansas-Missouri Power Co.,

55F [2d] 560, as quoted in the City Government of Batangas vs. Republic

Telephone Company, Inc., CA-G.R. CV No. 21897, January 21, 1992.)

Applying the above-cited meanings of the phrase “exclusive of” and

considering the fact that a franchise is an intangible personal property, the

first sentence of the Tax Provisions of the franchises of Bayantel, Digitel, and

GMA, as simplified, would read thus:

Bayantel and Digitel:

“The grantee shall be liable to pay the same taxes on its (a) real properties (real estate, buildings); and (b) personal properties, but not

including this franchise, as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay.”

GMA Network:

The grantee, its successors or assigns shall be liable to pay the same taxes as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay on their (a) real properties (real estate, buildings); and (b) personal properties, but not including this franchise.”

The “franchise”, as a personal property, was to be excluded from, or

not to be included with, the other personal properties on which the grantee, .

. . shall be “liable to pay the same taxes . . . as other persons or corporations

are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay” because the franchise (or

earnings thereof) shall be liable only to the franchise tax “. . . in lieu of all

(other) taxes.”

The Second and Third Divisions of the Supreme Court, in Bayantel and

in Digitel cases, respectively, both ruled that the phrase “exclusive of this

franchise” means that “all of the franchisees’ (Bayantel’s and Digitel’s)

properties that are actually, directly and exclusively used in the pursuit of their

respective franchises” are exempt from realty taxes. The Court practically

changed the law by substituting the phrase “exclusive of” with another

which says “NOT actually, directly and exclusively used in the pursuit of”,

meaning that “the grantee shall be liable to pay the same taxes on its real

estate, buildings and personal property which are “NOT actually, directly and

exclusively used in the pursuit of” its franchise.

In the Bayantel case, the Supreme Court said:

“For sure, in Philippine Long distance Telephone Company, Inc. (PLDT) vs. City of Davao, this Court has upheld the power of Congress to grant exemptions over the power of local government units to impose taxes. There, the Court wrote:

‘Indeed, the grant of taxing powers to local government units under the Constitution and the LGC does not affect the power of Congress to grant exemptions to certain persons, pursuant to a declared national policy. The legal effect of the constitutional grant to local government units simply means that in interpreting statutory provisions on municipal taxing powers,

doubts must be resolved in favor of municipal corporations. (Emphasis supplied.)’

“As we see it, then, the issue in this case no longer dwells on whether Congress has the power to exempt Bayantel’s properties from realty taxes by the enactment of Rep. Act No. 7633 which amended Bayantel’s original franchise. The more decisive question turns on whether Congress actually did exempt Bayantel’s properties by virtue of Section 11 of Rep. Act No. 7633.

“Admittedly, Rep. Act No. 7633 was enacted subsequent to the LGC. Perfectly aware that the LGC has already withdrawn Bayantel’s former exemption from realty taxes, Congress opted to pass Rep. Act No. 7633 using, under Section 11 thereof, exactly the same defining phrase “exclusive of this franchise” which was the basis for Bayantel’s exemption from realty taxes prior to the LGC. In plain language, Section 11 of Rep. Act No. 7633 states that “the grantee, its successors or assigns shall be liable to pay the same taxes on their real estate, buildings and personal property, exclusive of this franchise, as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay.” The Court views this subsequent piece of legislation as an express and real intention on the part of Congress to once again remove from the LGC’s delegated taxing power, all of the franchisee’s (Bayantel’s) properties that are actually, directly and exclusively used in the pursuit of its franchise.”

In the Digitel case, the Supreme Court ruled:

“The fact that Republic Act No. 7678 was a later piece of legislation can be taken to mean that Congress, knowing fully well that the Local Government Code had already withdrawn exemptions from real property taxes, chose to restore such immunity even to a limited degree. Accordingly:

“The Court views this subsequent piece of legislation as an express and real intention on the part of Congress to once again remove from the LGC’s delegated taxing power, all of the franchisee’s x x x properties that are actually, directly and exclusively used in the pursuit of its franchise.

“In view of the unequivocal intent of Congress to exempt from real property tax those real properties actually, directly and exclusively used by petitioner DIGITEL in the pursuit of it franchise, respondent Province of Pangasinan can only levy real property tax on the remaining real properties of the grantee located within its territorial jurisdiction not part of the above-stated classification. Said exemption, however, merely applies from the time of the effectivity of petitioner DIGITEL’s legislative franchise and not a moment sooner.”

With due respect, the conclusions of the Supreme Court in both the

Bayantel and Digitel cases are based on false premises. The matters of the

inherent taxing power of the legislature, and/or the power of Congress to

exempt certain persons, and/or the passage of Rep. Act No. 7633 (amending

Bayantel’s original franchise) after the effectivity of the LGC, and/or the

enactment of Rep. Act No. 7678 (Digitel’s franchise) subsequent to the LGC,

and/or Section 23 of Rep. Act No. 7925, are all beside the point. They are not

relevant in both cases.

The “Tax Provisions” common to telecommunications franchises clearly

provide that “the grantee shall be liable to pay the same taxes on its real

estate, buildings, and personal property, exclusive of this franchise, as

other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by

law to pay.” Unless the dictionaries cited herein are WRONG on the meaning

of the preposition or quasi-adverb “EXCLUSIVE OF”, the telecommunications

companies’ properties, both real and personal – except the franchise (which is

in itself a personal property) – are liable to payment of taxes as other persons

or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay.

The tax provision of Rep. Act No. 3259 (Bayantel’s original franchise,

approved on June 17, 1961), embodied in Section 14 thereof, reads:

“SECTION 14. (a) The grantee shall be liable to pay the same taxes on its real estate, buildings and personal property, exclusive of the franchise, as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay. (b) The grantee shall further pay to the Treasurer of the Philippines each year, within ten days after the audit and approval of the accounts as prescribed in this Act, one and a half per centum of all gross receipts from the business transacted under this franchise by the said grantee.” (Emphasis supplied).

Since Bayantel, as franchise grantee under Rep. Act No. 3259, was

NOT EXEMPT from realty tax, the Local Government Code of 1991 (LGC)

could not have withdrawn any realty tax exemption of Bayantel simply

because such exemption did NOT LEGALLY EXIST in the first place.

A few months after the Local Government Code of 1991 (LGC) took

effect, Congress enacted Rep. Act No. 7633 on July 20, 1992, amending

Bayantel’s original franchise. The amendatory law (Rep. Act No. 7633)

contained the following tax provision:

“SEC. 11. The grantee, its successors or assigns shall be liable to pay the same taxes on their real estate, buildings and personal property, exclusive of this franchise, as other persons or corporations are now or

hereafter may be required by law to pay. In addition thereto, the grantee, its successors or assigns shall pay a franchise tax equivalent to three percent (3%) of all gross receipts of the telephone or other telecommunication businesses transacted under this franchise by the grantee, its successors or assigns and the said percentages shall be in lieu of all taxes on this franchise or earnings thereof. Provided, That the grantee, its successors or assigns shall continue to be liable for income taxes payable under Title II of the National Internal Revenue Code x x x.” (Emphasis supplied)

Section 11 of Rep. Act No. 7633 is a virtual reenactment of Section

14(a) of Rep. Act No. 3259 (the original franchise of Bayantel). As Section

14(a) of Rep. Act No. 3259 did not confer to Bayantel any exemption from

the realty tax. Congress, by passing Rep. Act No. 7633, could not have

“restored” any realty tax exemption which was not, in the first place,

granted under the original franchise of Bayantel.

Digitel’s franchise (Rep. Act No. 7678) was approved on February 17,

1994, more than two years after the LGC took effect. The tax provisions

embodied in Section 5 of R.A. 7678 are similar to those embodied in Section

14(a) of Rep. Act No. 3259 and Section 11 of Rep. Act No. 7633 (Bayantel’s

original and amended franchises, respectively). Had R.A. 7678 exempted

Digitel from realty taxes, it would have been a clear intention of Congress to

override the last paragraph of Section 234 of the LGC, which withdraw all

exemptions existing at the time the LGC took effect. As in the case of

Bayantel, no such exemption was granted to Digitel. In fact, Congress

emphatically provided under Section 5 of Rep. Act No. 7678 that, with the

exception of the franchise (which is subject only to the franchise tax as may

be prescribed by law on all gross receipts of the telephone or other

telecommunication business transacted under this franchise by the grantee),

the grantee shall be liable to pay the same taxes on its real estate, buildings,

and personal property as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter

may be required by law to pay.

In RCPI vs. Provincial Assessor of South Cotabato, et al. (G.R. No.

144486, April 13, 2005), the First Division of the Supreme Court ruled:

“As found by the appellate court, RCPI’s radio relay station tower, radio station building, and machinery shed are real properties and are thus subject to the real property tax. Section 14 of RA 2036, as amended by RA 4054, states that “[i]n consideration of the franchise and rights hereby granted and any provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, the grantee shall pay the same taxes as are now or may hereafter be required by law from individuals, co-partnerships, private, public or quasi-public associations, corporations or joint stock companies, on real estate, buildings and other personal property x x x.” The clear language of Section 14 states that RCPI shall pay the real estate tax.

“The “in lieu of all taxes” clause in Section 14 of RA 2036, as amended by RA 4054, cannot exempt RCPI from the real estate tax because the same Section 14 expressly states that RCPI “shall pay the same taxes x x x on real estate, buildings x x x.” The “in lieu of all taxes” clause in the third sentence of Section 14 cannot negate the first sentence of the same Section 14, which imposes the real estate tax on RCPI. The Court must give effect to both provisions of the same Section 14. This means that the real estate tax is an exception to the “in lieu of all taxes” clause.

“Subsequent legislations have radically amended the “in lieu of all taxes” clause in franchises of public utilities. As RCPI correctly observes, the Local Government Code of 1991 “withdraw all the tax exemptions existing at the time of its passage – including that of RCPI’s” with respect to local taxes like the real property tax. Also, Republic Act No. 7716 (“RA 7716”) abolished the franchise tax on telecommunications companies effective 1 January 1996. To replace the franchise tax, RA 7716 imposed a 10 percent value-added-tax on telecommunications companies under Section 102 of the National Internal Revenue Code. The present state of the law on the “in lieu of all taxes” clause in franchises of telecommunications companies was summarized as follows:

“The existing legislative policy is clearly against the revival of the “in lieu of all taxes” clause in franchises of telecommunications companies. After the VAT on telecommunications companies took effect on January 1, 1996, Congress never again included the “in lieu of all taxes” clause in any telecommunications franchises it subsequently approved. Also, from September 2000 to July 2001, all the fourteen telecommunications franchises approved by Congress uniformly and expressly state that the franchise shall be subject to all taxes under the National Internal Revenue Code, except the specific tax. The following is substantially the uniform tax provisions in these fourteen franchises:

‘Tax Provisions. – The grantee, its successors or assigns, shall be subject to the payment of all taxes, duties, fees, or charges and other impositions under the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, as amended, and other applicable laws: Provided, That nothing herein shall be construed as repealing any specific tax exemptions, incentives or privileges granted under any relevant law: Provided, further, That all rights, privileges, benefits and exemptions accorded to existing and future telecommunications entities shall likewise be extended to the grantee.’

“Thus, after the imposition of the VAT on telecommunications companies, Congress refused to grant any tax exemption to telecommunications companies that sought new franchises from Congress,

except the exemption from specific tax. More importantly, the uniform tax provision in these new franchises expressly states that the franchise shall pay not only all taxes, except specific tax, under the National internal Revenue Code, but also all taxes under “other applicable laws.” One of the “other applicable laws” is the Local Government Code of 1991, which empowers local governments to impose a franchise tax on telecommunications companies. This, to reiterate, is the existing legislative policy.

“RCPI cannot also invoke the equality of treatment clause under Section 23 of Republic Act No. 7925. The franchises of Smart, Islacom, TeleTech, Bell, Major Telecoms, Island Country, and IslaTel, all expressly declare that the franchisee shall pay the real estate tax, using words similar to Section 14 of RA 2036, as amended. The provisions of these telecommunications franchises imposing the real estate tax on franchises only confirm that RCPI is subject to the real estate tax. Otherwise RCPI will stick out like a sore thumb, being the only telecommunications company exempt from the real estate tax, in mockery of the spirit of equality of treatment that RCPI is invoking, not to mention the violation of the constitutional rule on uniformity of taxation. (underscoring supplied for emphasis).

“It is an elementary rule in taxation that exemptions are strictly construed against the taxpayer and liberally in favor of the taxing authority. It is the taxpayer’s duty to justify the exemption by words too plain to be mistaken and too categorical to be misinterpreted.”

It would seem that the Supreme Court completely abandoned this

“elementary rule” in deciding the Bayantel and Digitel cases.

Section 14 of RA 2036 (RCPI’s franchise), as amended by RA 4054,

reads as follows:

“Sec. 14. In consideration of the franchise and rights granted and any provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, the grantee shall pay the same taxes as are now or may hereafter be required by law from other individuals, copartnerships, private, public or quasi-public associations, corporations or joint stock companies, on real estate, buildings and other personal property except radio equipment, machinery and spare parts needed in connection with the business of the grantee, which will be exempt from customs duties, tariffs and other taxes, as well as those properties declared exempt in this section. In consideration of the franchise, a tax equal to one and one-half per centum of all gross receipts from the business transacted under this franchise by the grantee shall be paid to the Treasurer of the Philippines each year, within ten days after the audit and approval of the accounts as prescribed in this Act. Said tax shall be in lieu of any and all taxes of any kind, nature or description levied, established or collected by any authority whatsoever, municipal, provincial or national, from which taxes the grantee is hereby expressly exempted.. (Emphasis supplied)

Except for the tax incentives granted RCPI on certain imported items,

the tax provisions in the franchises of RCPI, Bayantel and Digitel are similar, if

not identical in substance. All three tax provisions do not exempt the

grantee(s) from taxes on real estate, buildings and personal property,

exclusive of – or not including – the franchise, a personal property in itself.

Actually, the phrase “exclusive of this franchise” in the “tax provision”

of Bayantel’s franchise is a forewarning that the franchise is not to be taxed as

the other personal properties of the grantee because it is subject only to the

franchise tax, in lieu of all (other) taxes”.

The tax provisions of the franchises of both Petitioner GMA and

Bayantel say that “The grantee, its successors or assigns shall be liable to pay

the same taxes on their real estate, buildings and personal property, exclusive

of this franchise . . . In addition thereto, the grantee, its successors or

assigns shall pay a franchise tax . . . in lieu of all taxes on this franchise or

earnings thereof.” On the other hand, the tax provision in Digitel’s franchise

states that “The grantee, its successors or assigns shall be liable to pay the

same taxes on their real estate, buildings and personal property, exclusive of

this franchise . . . In addition thereto, the grantee, shall pay to the Bureau of

Internal Revenue . . . a franchise tax . . .” If the grantees, their successors or

assigns are NOT liable to pay the same taxes on their real estate, buildings

and personal property, not including the franchise, what taxes, then, is the

franchise tax in addition thereto? It is quite hard to imagine that Congress

wanted the telecommunications companies to be subject only to a small

percentage of their respective incomes, as franchise tax, and nothing more.

In the RCPI case, the First Division of the Supreme Court discussed

about how the “in lieu of all taxes” clause in the tax provisions of RCPI’s

franchise cannot negate the first sentence of the same tax provisions which

imposes the real estate tax on RCPI.

We would like to point out, if we may, that the phrase “all taxes”

contemplated by the “in lieu of all taxes” clause in the tax provisions

of franchises of telecommunications companies refers to franchise and other

taxes that local government units may try to impose on the franchise or

earnings thereof – apart from, and in addition to, the franchise tax imposed by

the national government.

In its 2nd Indorsement dated January 4, 1999, the Bureau of Local

Government Finance (BLGF) opined that:

“This Bureau finds the foregoing arguments of DIGITEL tenable considering the fact that, actually, even the Office of the President (OP) appears to share the same stand when OP, notwithstanding the subject January 21, 1992 Court of Appeals Decision, reaffirmed its position on the matter under a letter dated March 12, 1996, which categorically declared that DIGITEL, too, shall be subject only to the following taxes, to wit:

1. Taxes on its real estate, buildings and personally property not used in connection with the conduct of its business under its franchise, as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required to pay; (Underscoring supplied)

x x x

It is likewise important to note hereon that, in adherence to the aforementioned March 12, 1996 pronouncement of the Office of the President, this Bureau, in its November 9, 1998 letter . . ., likewise maintained the same stand, which in effect expressed that ‘the claim for exemption of that company from the payment of real property taxes on the real properties which are used in the operations of . . . (the company’s) franchise is hereby deemed meritorious.

In view thereof, the said Regional Director for Local Government Finance and the Provincial Assessor are hereby enjoined to implement the subject Opinions rendered by the Office of the President and the Department of Finance, thru the Bureau of Local Government Finance, on matters pertaining to the real property tax exemption covering real properties of DIGITEL which are used in the operation of its franchise.

Be guided accordingly.

ANGELINA M. MAGSINO Deputy Executive Director

Officer-in-Charge”

The above-quoted opinion of the BLGF was adopted by the Regional

Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 227, in its Civil Case No.

Q-02-47292. The RTC decision in said case is the subject matter of The City

Government of Quezon City, et al. vs. Bayan Telecommunications

Incorporated, supra.

The same Opinion by the BLGF was declared by the Court of Appeals

in the case of City of Batangas v. RETELCO, Inc. (CA-G.R.-CV No. 21897,

January 21, 1992), to be erroneous, thus:

“Reliance is placed by the trial court in the Opinion No. 1818 dated September 1982 of the Office of the President which states that the phrase ‘exclusive of this franchise’ found in Section 7 of Republic Act 3662 ‘has been construed to mean as excluding real estate, buildings and personal property of Defendant RETELCO, Inc. directly used in the operation of its franchise, for which the latter is not subject to real estate taxes as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay.’ We disagree. While administrative bodies may make opinions on the provisions of law, their opinions are, at most, persuasive and should not be given effect when they are erroneous, Administrative interpretations of law are not conclusive upon the courts (People v. Hernandez, 59 Phil. 272). (Underscoring supplied for emphasis)

“Here, it is Our well considered view that the opinion of the Office of the President is erroneous because it would render useless and ineffectual the clear import of Section 7 of Republic Act 3662 which holds RETELCO liable to pay real estate tax on its real estate, buildings and personal property, without distinction whether or not such property is directly used in the operation of its franchise. It is a well settled rule in statutory construction that words used in the statute are there for some purpose and are not used needlessly. Corollarily, there is the rule that it is the interpretation of the statute which will give effect to all the words used therein which is favored, as against one which will render some of the words useless and ineffective.”

The Supreme Court, in PLDT vs. Davao, et al. (G.R. No. 143867,

August 22, 2001), also rejected BLGF’s 2nd Indorsement dated January 4,

1999, thus:

“To be sure, the BLGF is not an administrative agency whose findings on questions of fact are given weight and deference in the courts . . . the BLGF was created merely to provide consultative services and technical assistance to local governments and the general public on local taxation, real property assessment, and other related matters, among others. The question raised by petitioner is a legal question, to wit, the interpretation of Section 23 of R.A. 7925. There is, therefore, no basis for claiming expertise for the BLGF that administrative agencies are said to possess in their respective fields.” (Underscoring supplied)

The BLGF corrected its previous Opinions by issuing BLGF’S

MEMORANDUM CIRCULAR NO. 15-2004 dated October 25, 2004,

addressed to “All Regional Directors for Local Government Finance;

Provincial, City and Municipal Assessors and Treasurers; and others

Concerned” with “Reversal of the Real Property Tax Exemption Previously

Granted to Globe Telecommunications (GLOBE for brevity), in line with the

Supreme Court (SC) Decision (G.R. No. 143867) dated August 22, 2001, and

the Central Board of Assessment Appeals (CBAA) Decision (Case No. V-17)

dated January 31, 2002.”

In view of the decisions of the Supreme Court in the Bayantel and Digitel

cases, the BLGF again changed its position on the interpretation of the phrase

“exclusive of”. In any case, in PLDT vs. Davao, supra, the Supreme Court said

that “the BLGF is not an administrative agency whose findings on questions of

fact are given weight and deference in the courts…”

On the matter of the doctrine of stare decisis, we believe that this

doctrine applies only when the original decision was correctly rendered and

the times have not altered the perceptions that existed when the same original

decision was made. But, what if the said original decision is patently

erroneous?

Prof. Ricardo L. Paras, in his comments under Article 8 of the Civil Code

of the Philippines, Annotated, 4th Edition 1965, Vol. One, p.32) said:

“We adhere in our country to the doctrine of stare decisis (let it stand, et non quieta movere) for reasons of stability in law. The doctrine, which is really “adherence to precedents,” states that once a case has been decided one way, then another case, involving exactly the same point at issue, should be decided in the same manner.

“Of course, when a case has been decided erroneously, such an error must not be perpetuated by blind obedience to the doctrine of stare decisis. No matter how sound a doctrine may be, and no matter how long it has been followed thru the years, still if found to be contrary to law, it must be abandoned. The principle of stare decisis does not and should not apply when there is a conflict between the precedent and the law (Tan Chong v. Sec. Of Labor, G.R. 47616, 79 Phil.249).

“While stability in the law is eminently to be desired, idolatrous reverence for precedent, simply as precedent, no longer rules. More pregnant than anything else is that the court shall be right (Phil. Trust Co. v. Mitchell, 59 Phil. 30). (Emphasis supplied)

Incidentally, all the three (3) Supreme Court decisions (Bayantel, Digitel

and RCPI) dealt with the said tax provisions of the franchises of the

telecommunications companies. Applying, therefore, the doctrine of stare

decisis, the Supreme Court’s decision in RCPI (April 13, 2005), being the

earliest of the three, should prevail over the same court’s decisions in Bayantel

(March 6, 2006) and Digitel (February 23, 2007).

Petitioner-Appellant’s franchise (RA 7252, approved on March 2, 1992)

contains a tax provision similar in substance to those found in the franchises of

RCPI, BAYANTEL and DIGITEL. It does not matter that any of the franchises,

or the amendments thereof, were granted by Congress after the effectivity of

the Local Government Code of 1991 (RA 7160) on January 1, 1992. Nothing in

these franchises – original or amended – remotely suggests that Congress

intended to exempt certain telecommunication companies from payment of the

real property tax.

At any rate, the Supreme Court had already atoned for its mistakes

committed in the City Government of Quezon City v. Bayan

Telecommunications, Inc. (March 6, 2006, 484 SCRA 169) and Digital

Telecommunications Philippines, Inc. (Digitel) v. Province of Pangasinan

(February 23, 2007, 516 SCRA 558) cases. In DIGITAL

TELECOMMUNICATIONS PHILIPPINES, INC. VS. CITY GOVERNMENT OF

BATANGAS represented by HON. ANGELITO DONDON A. DIMACUHA,

Batangas City Mayor, MR. BENJAMIN S. PARGAS, Batangas City Treasurer,

and ATTY. TEODULFO A. DEQUITO, Batangas City Legal Officer (G.R. No.

156040, December 11, 2008) the Supreme Court decided en banc to reverse

unequivocally the decisions of its Second and Third Divisions’ in the Bayantel

and Digitel cases, respectively. Said the Court:

Bayantel and Digitel Cases

In City Government of Quezon City v. Bayan Telecommunications, Inc. (G.R. No. 162015, 6 March 2006, 484 SCRA 169, 181), this Court’s Second Division held that “all realties which are actually, directly and exclusively used in the operation of its franchise are ‘exempted’ from any property tax.” The Second Division added that Bayantel’s franchise being national in character, the “exemption” granted applies to all its real and personal properties found anywhere within the Philippines. x x x.

x x x

In Digital Telecommunications Philippines, Inc. (Digitel) v. Province of Pangasinan (G.R. No. 152534, 23 February 2007, 516 SCRA 541, 559-560), this Court’s Third Division ruled that Digitel’s real properties located within the territorial jurisdiction of Pangasinan that are actually, directly and exclusively used in its franchise are exempt from realty tax under the first sentence of Section 5 of RA 7678. x x x

x x x

Nowhere in the language of the first sentence of Section 5 of RA 7678 does it expressly or even impliedly provide that petitioner’s real properties that are actually, directly and exclusively used in its telecommunications business are exempt from payment of realty tax. On the contrary, the first sentence of Section 5 specifically states that the petitioner, as the franchisee, shall pay the “same taxes on its real estate, buildings, and personal property exclusive of this franchise as other persons or corporations are now or hereafter may be required by law to pay.”

The heading of Section 5 is “Tax Provisions,” not Tax Exemptions. To reiterate, the phrase “exemption from real estate tax” or other words conveying exemption from realty tax do not appear in the first sentence of Section 5. The phrase “exclusive of this franchise” in the first sentence of Section 5 merely qualifies the phrase “personal property” to exclude petitioner’s legislative franchise, which is an intangible personal property. Petitioner’s franchise is subject to tax in the second sentence of Section 5 which imposes the “franchise tax.” Thus, there is no grant of tax exemption in the first sentence of Section 5.

The interpretation of the phrase “exclusive of this franchise” in the Bayantel and Digitel cases goes against the basic principle in construing tax exemptions. In PLDT v. City of Davao (G.R. No. 143867, 25 March 2003, 399 SCRA 442, 453), the Court held that tax exemptions should be granted only by clear and unequivocal provision of law on the basis of language too plain to be mistaken. They cannot be extended by mere implication or inference.

Tax exemptions must be clear and unequivocal. A taxpayer claiming a tax exemption must point to a specific provision of law conferring on the taxpayer, in clear and plain terms, exemption from a common burden. Any doubt whether a tax exemption exists is resolved against the taxpayer.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Appeal is hereby

DISMISSED for lack of merit.

SO ORDERED.

Manila, Philippines, December 18, 2009.

(Signed) CESAR S. GUTIERREZ

Chairman

(Signed)
ANGEL P. PALOMARES Member

(Signed) RAFAEL O. CORTES
Member