Tax exemptions are often met with reservations and must withstand the strict scrutiny of revenue collectors. After all, taxes are the driving fuel that propels all programs and activities of the state. Absolving persons from their tax liabilities means reducing public funds and restraining the government from actualizing its goals.
Nevertheless, the legislative groundwork covering the tax exemption of religious and charitable institutions has long been established, even as early as the Commonwealth period. The rationale for the exemption springs from the benevolent neutrality approach premised on the ground that religious and charitable institutions are not engaged in profit-seeking undertakings; whatever gains derived by the organization redounds to charity. Hence, Section 30(E) of the National Internal Revenue Code (or simply, the Tax Code) is specifically couched to incorporate the rationale in these words: a non-stock corporation or association organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, athletic, or cultural purposes, or for the rehabilitation of veterans, wherein no part of its net income or asset shall belong to or inure to the benefit of any member, organizer, officer or any specific person shall be exempt from income tax.
In a recent decision (CTA Case No. 8912 dated July 25, 2017), the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) emphasized that while our Tax Code provides exemptions for certain non-stock corporations from income tax, this incentive is not absolute. It reiterated that in order to enjoy immunity from taxation, the following requirements for exemption must continually be satisfied by the taxpayer: (a) The taxpayer must be a non-stock corporation or association; (b) Organized exclusively for charitable purposes; (c) Operated exclusively for such purposes; and (d) No part of its net income or asset shall belong to or inure to the benefit of any member, organizer, officer or any specific person.
In the foregoing case, the CTA ruled in favor of the BIR, declaring that while there was no sufficient evidence to prove that any income or asset inured to the benefit of any member or officer of the institution, the 10% preferential tax rate applicable to proprietary hospitals which are nonprofit (under Section 27(B) of the Tax Code) should be imposed since the taxpayer was not operated “exclusively” in charitable purposes. Although not barred from engaging in activities conducted for profit, any income the hospital derives from profit-oriented activities should not escape the reach of taxation. Thus, an organization with both non-profit and profit-generating activities may still enjoy its tax exempt status but only on income from not-for-profit activities. Any income generated from activities conducted for profit shall strictly be subject to income tax.
As basis, the CTA also cited previous cases (G.R. Nos. 195909 and 195960 dated September 26, 2012) where the Supreme Court extensively discussed the application of Section 30(E) of the Tax Code, as amended, and upheld the same decision.
For taxpayers, an important takeaway from this case is that in order to enjoy immunity from taxation, all of the requirements for the same must continually be satisfied by the taxpayer. Thus, being a non-stock and non-profit charitable institution does not automatically exempt an institution from paying taxes.
Generally, just relying on the specific tax-exemption provision of charitable institutions from our Tax Code, a non-stock, non-profit corporation is exempt from paying income taxes at first glance. In some instances, organizations tend to overlook the succeeding provision clearly stating that the exemption only applies to income from non-profit activities. Through this case, the CTA reiterated the prevailing tax position in the Philippines that income from profit-generating activity is taxable, regardless of the disposition of the income earned from such activities. Nonetheless, while this may be the case, an organization may still, at the same time, remain tax-exempt on income from its actual charitable activities. Therefore, it may be deduced that at the end of the day, the determining factor for taxability lies in whether an activity is for profit or not.
To be exempt from tax, the challenge is for charitable and religious organizations to have a better appreciation of the rationale behind their tax-exempt status. As a rule, taxation is the overarching principle and exemption is the exception; as such, the burden of proof rests upon the party claiming exemption to prove that it is, in fact, covered by the exemption so claimed.
The views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Isla Lipana & Co. The content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for specific advice.
Nadine E. Chan is a manager at the Tax Services Department of Isla Lipana & Co., the Philippine member firm of the PwC network.
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