Since taxation is the rule and exemption therefrom the exception, the exemption may thus be withdrawn at the pleasure of the taxing authority. The only exception to this rule is where the exemption was granted to private parties based on material consideration of a mutual nature, which then becomes contractual and is thus covered by the non- impairment clause of the Constitution.
Petitioner Mactan Cebu International Airport Authority (MCIAA) was created by virtue of Republic Act No. 6958, mandated to “principally undertake the economical, efficient and effective control, management and supervision of the Mactan International Airport in the Province of Cebu and the Lahug Airport in Cebu City, and such other airports as may be established in the Province of Cebu. Since the time of its creation, petitioner MCIAA enjoyed the privilege of exemption from payment of realty taxes in accordance with Section 14 of its Charter:
“Sec. 14. Tax Exemptions. — The Authority shall be exempt from realty taxes imposed by the National Government or any of its political subdivisions, agencies and instrumentalities.”
On October 11, 1994, however, the Office of the Treasurer of the City of Cebu, demanded payment for realty taxes on several parcels of land belonging to the petitioner located at Barrio Apas and Barrio Kasambagan, Lahug, Cebu City, in the total amount of P2,229,078.79.
Petitioner objected to such demand for payment as baseless and unjustified, claiming in its favor the aforecited Section 14 of RA 6958 which exempts it from payment of realty taxes. It was also asserted that it is an instrumentality of the government performing governmental functions, citing Section 133 of the Local Government Code of 1991 which puts limitations on the taxing powers of local government units:
“Section 133. Common Limitations on the Taxing Powers of Local Government Units. — Unless otherwise provided herein, the exercise of the taxing powers of provinces, cities, municipalities, and barangays shall not extend to the levy of the following:
o) Taxes, fees or charges of any kind on the National Government, its agencies and instrumentalities, and local government units”
Respondent City refused to cancel and set aside petitioner’s realty tax account, insisting that the MCIAA is a government-controlled corporation whose tax exemption privilege has been withdrawn by virtue of Sections 193 and 234 of the Local Government Code that took effect on January 1, 1992:
“Section 193. Withdrawal of Tax Exemption Privilege.— Unless otherwise provided in this Code, tax exemptions or incentives granted to, or presently enjoyed by all persons whether natural or juridical, including government-owned or controlled corporations, except local water districts, cooperatives duly registered under RA No. 6938, non-stock and non-profit hospitals and educational institutions, are hereby withdrawn upon the effectivity of this Code.
Section 234. Exemptions from Real Property Taxes. — x x x
(a) x x x
x x x
(e) x x x
Except as provided herein, any exemption from payment of real property tax previously granted to, or presently enjoyed by all persons, whether natural or juridical, including government-owned or controlled corporations are hereby withdrawn upon the effectivity of this Code.”
1. Whether the parcels of land in question belong to the Republic of the Philippines whose beneficial use has been granted to the petitioner, and
2. Whether the petitioner is a “taxable person.”
1. NO. Section 15 of the petitioner’s Charter provides:
“Sec. 15. Transfer of Existing Facilities and Intangible Assets. — All existing public airport facilities, runways, lands, buildings and other properties, movable or immovable, belonging to or presently administered by the airports, and all assets, powers, rights, interests and privileges relating on airport works or air operations, including all equipment which are necessary for the operations of air navigation, aerodrome control towers, crash, fire, and rescue facilities are hereby transferred to the Authority: Provided, however, that the operations control of all equipment necessary for the operation of radio aids to air navigation, airways communication, the approach control office, and the area control center shall be retained by the Air Transportation Office. No equipment, however, shall be removed by the Air Transportation Office from Mactan without the concurrence of the Authority. The Authority may assist in the maintenance of the Air Transportation Office equipment.”
It may be reasonable to assume that the term “lands” refer to “lands” in Cebu City then administered by the Lahug Air Port and included the parcels of land the respondent City of Cebu seeks to levy on for real property taxes. This section involves a “transfer” of the “lands,” among other things, to the petitioner and not just the transfer of the beneficial use thereof, with the ownership being retained by the Republic of the Philippines.
This “transfer” is actually an absolute conveyance of the ownership thereof because the petitioner’s authorized capital stock consists of, inter alia, “the value of such real estate owned and/or administered by the airports.” Hence, the petitioner is now the owner of the land in question and the exception in Section 234(c) of the LGC is inapplicable.
2. YES. Moreover, the petitioner cannot claim that it was never a “taxable person” under its Charter. It was only exempted from the payment of real property taxes. The grant of the privilege only in respect of this tax is conclusive proof of the legislative intent to make it a taxable person subject to all taxes, except real property tax.
Finally, even if the petitioner was originally not a taxable person for purposes of real property tax, in light of the foregoing disquisitions, it had already become, even if it be conceded to be an “agency” or “instrumentality” of the Government, a taxable person for such purpose in view of the withdrawal in the last paragraph of Section 234 of exemptions from the payment of real property taxes, which, as earlier adverted to, applies to the petitioner.