CD: Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Eastern Telecommunications Philippines

August 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm (2010, Case Digests) (, )

Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Eastern Telecommunications Philippines
G.R. No. 163835 July 7, 2010
Brion, J.

Doctrine:
Lapses in the literal observance of a rule of procedure may be overlooked when they have not prejudiced the adverse party and especially when they are more consistent with upholding settled principles in taxation.

The burden of strict compliance with statutory and administrative requirements by the person claiming for a tax refund cannot be offset by the non-observance of procedural technicalities by the government’s tax agents when the non-observance of the remedial measure addressing it does not in any manner prejudice the taxpayer’s due process rights.

Facts:
Eastern filed with the CIR a written application for refund or credit of unapplied input taxes it paid on the imported equipment purchased during 1995 and 1996 amounting to P22,013,134.00. To toll the running of the two-year prescriptive period under the same provision, Eastern filed an appeal with the CTA. The CTA found that Eastern has a valid claim for the refund/credit of the unapplied input taxes, declaring it entitled to a tax refund of P16,229,100.00.

The CIR filed a motion for reconsideration of the CTA’s decision. Subsequently, it filed a supplemental motion for reconsideration. The CTA denied the CIR’s motion for reconsideration. The CIR then elevated the case to the CA, who affirmed the CTA ruling and likewise denied the subsequent motion for reconsideration. Hence, the present petition.

The CIR posits that, applying Section 104(A) of the Tax Code on apportionment of tax credits, Eastern is entitled to a tax refund of only a portion of the amount claimed. Since the VAT returns clearly reflected income from exempt sales, the CIR asserts that this constitutes as an admission on Eastern’s part that it engaged in transactions not subject to VAT. Hence, the proportionate allocation of the tax credit to VAT and non-VAT transactions provided in Section 104(A) of the Tax Code should apply.

Eastern objects to the arguments raised in the petition, alleging that these have not been raised in the Answer filed by the CIR before the CTA and was only raised. In fact, the CIR only raised the applicability of Section 104(A) of the Tax Code in his supplemental motion for reconsideration of the CTA’s ruling. Eastern claims that for the CIR to raise such an issue now would constitute a violation of its right to due process; following settled rules of procedure and fair play, the CIR should not be allowed at the appeal level to change his theory of the case.

Eastern further argues that there is no evidence on record that would evidently show that respondent is also engaged in other transactions that are not subject to VAT.

Issue:
Whether or not the rule in Section 104(A) of the Tax Code on the apportionment of tax credits can be applied in appreciating Eastern’s claim for tax refund, considering that the matter was raised by the CIR only when he sought reconsideration of the CTA ruling

Held:
Yes. The question of the applicability of Section 104(A) of the Tax Code was already raised but the tax court did not rule on it. This failure should not be taken against the CIR. The mere declaration of exempt sales in the VAT returns, whether based on Section 103 of the Tax Code or some other special law, should have prompted for the application of Section 104 (A) of the Tax Code to Eastern’s claim.

The general rule is that appeals can only raise questions of law or fact that (a) were raised in the court below, and (b) are within the issues framed by the parties therein (People v. Echegaray, G.R. No. 117472). An issue which was neither averred in the pleadings nor raised during trial in the court below cannot be raised for the first time on appeal.

The rule against raising new issues on appeal is not without exceptions; it is a procedural rule that the Court may relax when compelling reasons so warrant or when justice requires it. What constitutes good and sufficient cause that would merit suspension of the rules is discretionary upon the courts (CIR v. Mirant Pagbilao Corporation, G.R. No. 159593). Another exception is when the question involves matters of public importance.

“Taxes are the lifeblood of the government.” For this reason, the right of taxation cannot easily be surrendered; statutes granting tax exemptions are considered as a derogation of the sovereign authority and are strictly construed against the person or entity claiming the exemption. Claims for tax refunds, when based on statutes granting tax exemption or tax refund, partake of the nature of an exemption; thus, the rule of strict interpretation against the taxpayer-claimant similarly applies (CIR v. Fortune Tobacco Corporation, G.R. Nos. 167274-75).

The taxpayer is charged with the heavy burden of proving that he has complied with and satisfied all the statutory and administrative requirements to be entitled to the tax refund. This burden cannot be offset by the non-observance of procedural technicalities by the government’s tax agents when the non-observance of the remedial measure addressing it does not in any manner prejudice the taxpayer’s due process rights.

Lapses in the literal observance of a rule of procedure may be overlooked when they have not prejudiced the adverse party and especially when they are more consistent with upholding settled principles in taxation.

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