International double taxation; tax treaty

To begin with, we are not aware of any law or rule pertinent to the payment of royalties, and none has been brought to our attention, which provides for the payment of royalties under dissimilar circumstances. The tax rates on royalties and the circumstances of payment thereof are the same for all the recipients of such royalties and there is no disparity based on nationality in the circumstances of such payment. On the other hand, a cursory reading of the various tax treaties will show that there is no similarity in the provisions on relief from or avoidance of double taxation as this is a matter of negotiation between the contracting parties. As will be shown later, this dissimilarity is true particularly in the treaties between the Philippines and the United States and between the Philippines and West Germany.

The RP-US Tax Treaty is just one of a number of bilateral treaties which the Philippines has entered into for the avoidance of double taxation. The purpose of these international agreements is to reconcile the national fiscal legislations of the contracting parties in order to help the taxpayer avoid simultaneous taxation in two different jurisdictions. More precisely, the tax conventions are drafted with a view towards the elimination of international juridical double taxation, which is defined as the imposition of comparable taxes in two or more states on the same taxpayer in respect of the same subject matter and for identical periods. The apparent rationale for doing away with double taxation is of encourage the free flow of goods and services and the movement of capital, technology and persons between countries, conditions deemed vital in creating robust and dynamic economies. Foreign investments will only thrive in a fairly predictable and reasonable international investment climate and the protection against double taxation is crucial in creating such a climate.

Double taxation usually takes place when a person is resident of a contracting state and derives income from, or owns capital in, the other contracting state and both states impose tax on that income or capital. In order to eliminate double taxation, a tax treaty resorts to several methods. First, it sets out the respective rights to tax of the state of source or situs and of the state of residence with regard to certain classes of income or capital. In some cases, an exclusive right to tax is conferred on one of the contracting states; however, for other items of income or capital, both states are given the right to tax, although the amount of tax that may be imposed by the state of source is limited.

The second method for the elimination of double taxation applies whenever the state of source is given a full or limited right to tax together with the state of residence. In this case, the treaties make it incumbent upon the state of residence to allow relief in order to avoid double taxation. There are two methods of relief — the exemption method and the credit method. In the exemption method, the income or capital which is taxable in the state of source or situs is exempted in the state of residence, although in some instances it may be taken into account in determining the rate of tax applicable to the taxpayer's remaining income or capital. On the other hand, in the credit method, although the income or capital which is taxed in the state of source is still taxable in the state of residence, the tax paid in the former is credited against the tax levied in the latter. The basic difference between the two methods is that in the exemption method, the focus is on the income or capital itself, whereas the credit method focuses upon the tax.

In negotiating tax treaties, the underlying rationale for reducing the tax rate is that the Philippines will give up a part of the tax in the expectation that the tax given up for this particular investment is not taxed by the other country. Thus, the petitioner correctly opined that the phrase "royalties paid under similar circumstances" in the most favored nation clause of the US-RP Tax Treaty necessarily contemplated "circumstances that are tax-related".

In the case at bar, the state of source is the Philippines because the royalties are paid for the right to use property or rights, i.e. trademarks, patents and technology, located within the Philippines. The United States is the state of residence since the taxpayer, S. C. Johnson and Son, U. S. A., is based there. Under the RP-US Tax Treaty, the state of residence and the state of source are both permitted to tax the royalties, with a restraint on the tax that may be collected by the state of source.

Furthermore, the method employed to give relief from double taxation is the allowance of a tax credit to citizens or residents of the United States (in an appropriate amount based upon the taxes paid or accrued to the Philippines) against the United States tax, but such amount shall not exceed the limitations provided by United States law for the taxable year. Under Article 13 thereof, the Philippines may impose one of three rates — 25 percent of the gross amount of the royalties; 15 percent when the royalties are paid by a corporation registered with the Philippine Board of Investments and engaged in preferred areas of activities; or the lowest rate of Philippine tax that may be imposed on royalties of the same kind paid under similar circumstances to a resident of a third state.

Given the purpose underlying tax treaties and the rationale for the most favored nation clause, the concessional tax rate of 10 percent provided for in the RP-Germany Tax Treaty should apply only if the taxes imposed upon royalties in the RP-US Tax Treaty and in the RP-Germany Tax Treaty are paid under similar circumstances. This would mean that private respondent must prove that the RP-US Tax Treaty grants similar tax reliefs to residents of the United States in respect of the taxes imposable upon royalties earned from sources within the Philippines as those allowed to their German counterparts under the RP-Germany Tax Treaty.

The RP-US and the RP-West Germany Tax Treaties do not contain similar provisions on tax crediting.

The reason for construing the phrase "paid under similar circumstances" as used in Article 13 (2) (b) (iii) of the RP-US Tax Treaty as referring to taxes is anchored upon a logical reading of the text in the light of the fundamental purpose of such treaty which is to grant an incentive to the foreign investor by lowering the tax and at the same time crediting against the domestic tax abroad a figure higher than what was collected in the Philippines. (G.R. No. 127105)