Most favored nation clause; double taxation

[T]he ultimate reason for avoiding double taxation is to encourage foreign investors to invest in the Philippines — a crucial economic goal for developing countries. The goal of double taxation conventions would be thwarted if such treaties did not provide for effective measures to minimize, if not completely eliminate, the tax burden laid upon the income or capital of the investor. Thus, if the rates of tax are lowered by the state of source, in this case, by the Philippines, there should be a concomitant commitment on the part of the state of residence to grant some form of tax relief, whether this be in the form of a tax credit or exemption. Otherwise, the tax which could have been collected by the Philippine government will simply be collected by another state, defeating the object of the tax treaty since the tax burden imposed upon the investor would remain unrelieved. If the state of residence does not grant some form of tax relief to the investor, no benefit would redound to the Philippines, i.e., increased investment resulting from a favorable tax regime, should it impose a lower tax rate on the royalty earnings of the investor, and it would be better to impose the regular rate rather than lose much-needed revenues to another country.

At the same time, the intention behind the adoption of the provision on "relief from double taxation" in the two tax treaties in question should be considered in light of the purpose behind the most favored nation clause.

The purpose of a most favored nation clause is to grant to the contracting party treatment not less favorable than that which has been or may be granted to the "most favored" among other countries. The most favored nation clause is intended to establish the principle of equality of international treatment by providing that the citizens or subjects of the contracting nations may enjoy the privileges accorded by either party to those of the most favored nation. The essence of the principle is to allow the taxpayer in one state to avail of more liberal provisions granted in another tax treaty to which the country of residence of such taxpayer is also a party provided that the subject matter of taxation, in this case royalty income, is the same as that in the tax treaty under which the taxpayer is liable. Both Article 13 of the RP-US Tax Treaty and Article 12 (2) (b) of the RP-West Germany Tax Treaty, above-quoted, speaks of tax on royalties for the use of trademark, patent, and technology. The entitlement of the 10% rate by U.S. firms despite the absence of a matching credit (20% for royalties) would derogate from the design behind the most grant equality of international treatment since the tax burden laid upon the income of the investor is not the same in the two countries. The similarity in the circumstances of payment of taxes is a condition for the enjoyment of most favored nation treatment precisely to underscore the need for equality of treatment.
We accordingly agree with petitioner that since the RP-US Tax Treaty does not give a matching tax credit of 20 percent for the taxes paid to the Philippines on royalties as allowed under the RP-West Germany Tax Treaty, private respondent cannot be deemed entitled to the 10 percent rate granted under the latter treaty for the reason that there is no payment of taxes on royalties under similar circumstances.

It bears stress that tax refunds are in the nature of tax exemptions. As such they are regarded as in derogation of sovereign authority and to be construed strictissimi juris against the person or entity claiming the exemption. The burden of proof is upon him who claims the exemption in his favor and he must be able to justify his claim by the clearest grant of organic or statute law. Private respondent is claiming for a refund of the alleged overpayment of tax on royalties; however, there is nothing on record to support a claim that the tax on royalties under the RP-US Tax Treaty is paid under similar circumstances as the tax on royalties under the RP-West Germany Tax Treaty. (G.R. No. 127105)

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