Nitafan v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue [GR L-78780, 23 July 1987];
En Banc, Melencio-Herrera (p): 12 concur, 1 on leave
Facts: The Chief Justice has previously issued a directive to the Fiscal Management and Budget Office to continue the deduction of withholding taxes from salaries of the Justices of the Supreme Court and other members of the judiciary. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court en banc on 4 December 1987.
Petitioners are the duly appointed and qualified Judges presiding over Branches 52, 19 and 53, respectively, of the RTC, National Capital Judicial Region, all with stations in Manila. They seek to prohibit and/or perpetually enjoin the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and the Financial Officer of the Supreme Court, from making any deduction of withholding taxes from their salaries. With the filing of the petition, the Court deemed it best to settle the issue through judicial pronouncement, even if it had dealt with the matter administratively.
The Supreme Court dismissed the petition for prohibition.
- Intent to delete express grant of exemption of income taxes to members of Judiciary
The salaries of members of the Judiciary are subject to the general income tax applied to all taxpayers. This intent was somehow and inadvertently not clearly set forth in the final text of the Constitution as approved and ratified in February, 1987 (infra, pp. 7-8). Although the intent may have been obscured by the failure to include in the General Provisions a proscription against exemption of any public officer or employee, including constitutional officers, from payment of income tax, the Court since then has authorized the continuation of the deduction of the withholding tax from the salaries of the members of the Supreme Court, as well as from the salaries of all other members of the Judiciary. The Court hereby makes of record that it had then discarded the ruling in Perfecto vs. Meer and Endencia vs. David.
The 1973 Constitution has provided that “no salary or any form of emolument of any public officer or employee, including constitutional officers, shall be exempt from payment of income tax (Section 6, Article XV)” which was not present in the 1987 Constitution. The deliberations of the 1986 Constitutional Commission relevant to Section 10, Article VIII (The salary of the Chief Justice and of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, and of judges of lower courts shall be fixed by law. During their continuance in office, their salary shall not be decreased), negate the contention that the intent of the framers is to revert to the original concept of “non-diminution” of salaries of judicial officers.
- Equality of branches of government effected by modifications in provision
The term “diminished” be changed to “decreased” and that the words “nor subjected to income tax” be deleted so as to give substance to equality among the three branches in the government. A period (.) after “decreased” was made on the understanding that the salary of justices is subject to tax. With the period, the doctrine in Perfecto vs. Meer and Endencia vs. David is understood not to apply anymore. Justices and judges are not only the citizens whose income have been reduced in accepting service in government and yet subjected to income tax. Such is true also of Cabinet members and all other employees.
- Constitutional construction adopts the intent of the framers and people adopting the law
The ascertainment of the intent is but in keeping with the fundamental principle of constitutional construction that the intent of the framers of the organic law and of the people adopting it should be given effect. The primary task in constitutional construction is to ascertain and thereafter assure the realization of the purpose of the framers and of the people in the adoption of the Constitution. It may also be safely assumed that the people in ratifying the Constitution were guided mainly by the explanation offered by the framers. In the case at bar, Section 10, Article VIII is plain that the Constitution authorizes Congress to pass a law fixing another rate of compensation of Justices and Judges but such rate must be higher than that which they are receiving at the time of enactment, or if lower, it would be applicable only to those appointed after its approval. It would be a strained construction to read into the provision an exemption from taxation in the light of the discussion in the Constitutional Commission.