February 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Tax Laws

Tariff and Customs Code; Revised Administrative Code Customs Memorandum Order No. 27-2003.  Customs Memorandum Order No. 27-2003 (CMO 23-2007) is invalid. The Commissioner of Customs (1) violated the right to due process in the issuance of CMO 27-2003 when he failed to observe the requirements under the Revised Administrative Code, (2) violated the right to equal protection of laws when he provided for an unreasonable classification in the application of the regulation, and (3) went beyond his powers of delegated authority when the regulation limited the powers of the customs officer to examine and assess imported articles. CMO 27-2003 was issued without following the mandate of the Revised Administrative Code on public participation, prior notice, and publication or registration with the University of the Philippines Law Center. For tariff purposes, CMO 27-2003 classified wheat according to the following: (1) importer or consignee; (2) country of origin; and (3) port of discharge. This is a violation of the equal protection clause under the Constitution. The Court does not see how the quality of wheat is affected by who imports it, where it is discharged, or which country it came from. Thus, on the one hand, even if other millers excluded from CMO 27-2003 have imported food grade wheat, the product would still be declared as feed grade wheat, a classification subjecting them to 7% tariff. On the other hand, even if the importers listed under CMO 27-2003 have imported feed grade wheat, they would only be made to pay 3% tariff, thus depriving the state of the taxes due. The regulation, therefore, does not become disadvantageous to respondent only, but even to the state. Section 1403 of the Tariff and Customs Law, as amended mandates that the customs officer must first assess and determine the classification of the imported article before tariff may be imposed. Unfortunately, CMO 23-2007 has already classified the article even before the customs officer had the chance to examine it. Finally, Commissioner of Customs diminished the powers granted by the Tariff and Customs Code with regard to wheat importation when it no longer required the customs officer’s prior examination and assessment of the proper classification of the wheat. Commissioner of Customs vs. Hypermix Feeds Corporation, G.R. No. 179579, February 1, 2012.

(Caren thanks Lui Manalaysay for assisting in the preparation of this post.)