Constitutional Law, Political Law, Taxation

Tolentino vs. Secretary of Finance G.R. No. 115455 October 30, 1995 Freedom of the Press


These are motions seeking reconsideration of our decision dismissing the petitions filed in these cases for the declaration of unconstitutionality of R.A. No. 7716, otherwise known as the Expanded Value-Added Tax Law. Now it is contended by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) that by removing the exemption of the press from the VAT while maintaining those granted to others, the law discriminates against the press. At any rate, it is averred, “even nondiscriminatory taxation of constitutionally guaranteed freedom is unconstitutional.”



Does sales tax on bible sales violative of religious and press freedom?



No. The Court was speaking in that case of a license tax, which, unlike an ordinary tax, is mainly for regulation. Its imposition on the press is unconstitutional because it lays a prior restraint on the exercise of its right. Hence, although its application to others, such those selling goods, is valid, its application to the press or to religious groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in connection with the latter’s sale of religious books and pamphlets, is unconstitutional. As the U.S. Supreme Court put it, “it is one thing to impose a tax on income or property of a preacher. It is quite another thing to exact a tax on him for delivering a sermon.”

The VAT is, however, different. It is not a license tax. It is not a tax on the exercise of a privilege, much less a constitutional right. It is imposed on the sale, barter, lease or exchange of goods or properties or the sale or exchange of services and the lease of properties purely for revenue purposes. To subject the press to its payment is not to burden the exercise of its right any more than to make the press pay income tax or subject it to general regulation is not to violate its freedom under the Constitution.

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