Appellate power of CTA includes certiorari

In the case of British American Tobacco v. Camacho (G.R. No. 163583, August 20, 2008), the Supreme Court expounded on the limited jurisdiction of the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) in the following wise:
While the above statute [referring to Republic Act No. 1125, as amended by Republic Act No. 9282] confers on the CTA jurisdiction to resolve tax disputes in general, this does not include cases where the constitutionality of a law or rule is challenged. Where what is assailed is the validity or constitutionality of a law, or a rule or regulation issued by the administrative agency in the performance of its quasi-legislative function, the regular courts have jurisdiction to pass upon the same. The determination of whether a specific rule or set of rules issued by an administrative agency contravenes the law or the constitution is within the jurisdiction of the regular courts. Indeed, the Constitution vests the power of judicial review or the power to declare a law, treaty, international or executive agreement, presidential decree, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation in the courts, including the regional trial courts. This is within the scope of judicial power, which includes the authority of the courts to determine in an appropriate action the validity of the acts of the political departments. Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.
Vis-a-vis British American Tobacco, it bears to stress what appears to be a contrasting ruling in Asia International Auctioneers, Inc. v. Parayno, Jr. (G.R. No. 163445, December 18, 2007), to wit:
Similarly, in CIR v. Leal, pursuant to Section 116 of Presidential Decree No. 1158 (The National Internal Revenue Code, as amended) which states that “[d]ealers in securities shall pay a tax equivalent to six (6%) per centum of their gross income. Lending investors shall pay a tax equivalent to five (5%) per cent, of their gross income,” the CIR issued Revenue Memorandum Order (RMO) No. 15-91 imposing 5% lending investor’s tax on pawnshops based on their gross income and requiring all investigating units of the BIR to investigate and assess the lending investor’s tax due from them. The issuance of RMO No. 15-91 was an offshoot of the CIR’s finding that the pawnshop business is akin to that of “lending investors” as defined in Section 157(u) of the Tax Code. Subsequently, the CIR issued RMC No. 43-91 subjecting pawn tickets to documentary stamp tax. Respondent therein, Josefina Leal, owner and operator of Josefina’s Pawnshop, asked for a reconsideration of both RMO No. 15-91 and RMC No. 43-91, but the same was denied by petitioner CIR. Leal then filed a petition for prohibition with the RTC of San Mateo, Rizal, seeking to prohibit petitioner CIR from implementing the revenue orders. The CIR, through the OSG, filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of lack of jurisdiction. The RTC denied the motion. Petitioner filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition with the CA which dismissed the petition “for lack of basis.” In reversing the CA, dissolving the Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued by the trial court and ordering the dismissal of the case before the trial court, the Supreme Court held that “[t]he questioned RMO No. 15-91 and RMC No. 43-91 are actually rulings or opinions of the Commissioner implementing the Tax Code on the taxability of pawnshops.” They were issued pursuant to the CIR’s power under Section 245 of the Tax Code “to make rulings or opinions in connection with the implementation of the provisions of internal revenue laws, including ruling on the classification of articles of sales and similar purposes.” The Court held that under R.A. No. 1125 (An Act Creating the Court of Tax Appeals), as amended, such rulings of the CIR are appealable to the CTA.

In the case at bar, the assailed revenue regulations and revenue memorandum circulars are actually rulings or opinions of the CIR on the tax treatment of motor vehicles sold at public auction within the SSEZ to implement Section 12 of R.A. No. 7227 which provides that “exportation or removal of goods from the territory of the [SSEZ] to the other parts of the Philippine territory shall be subject to customs duties and taxes under the Customs and Tariff Code and other relevant tax laws of the Philippines.” They were issued pursuant to the power of the CIR under Section 4 of the National Internal Revenue Code x x x.
The respective teachings in British American Tobacco and Asia International Auctioneers, at first blush, appear to bear no conflict––that when the validity or constitutionality of an administrative rule or regulation is assailed, the regular courts have jurisdiction; and if what is assailed are rulings or opinions of the Commissioner on tax treatments, jurisdiction over the controversy is lodged with the CTA. The problem with the above postulates, however, is that they failed to take into consideration one crucial point––a taxpayer can raise both issues simultaneously.There appeals to be a trend, as mentioned in The Philippine American Life v. Secretary of Finance, wherein both the CTA and the CA disclaim jurisdiction over tax cases: on the one hand, mere prayer for the declaration of a tax measure’s unconstitutionality or invalidity before the CTA can result in a petition’s outright dismissal, and on the other hand, the CA will likewise dismiss the same petition should it find that the primary issue is not the tax measure’s validity but the assessment or taxability of the transaction or subject involved.

As a result of the seemingly conflicting pronouncements, what is the proper mode of appeal, to which court or agency should it be filed, and which case law should be followed?

In the same case of The Philippine American Life v. Secretary of Finance, the Supreme Court gave the answer. The Court cited the recent case of City of Manila v. Grecia-Cuerdo (G.R. No. 175723, February 4, 2014) where the Court en banc ruled that the CTA has the power of certiorari in cases within its appellate jurisdiction:
The prevailing doctrine is that the authority to issue writs of certiorari involves the exercise of original jurisdiction which must be expressly conferred by the Constitution or by law and cannot be implied from the mere existence of appellate jurisdiction. Thus, xxx this Court has ruled against the jurisdiction of courts or tribunals over petitions for certiorari on the ground that there is no law which expressly gives these tribunals such power. It must be observed, however, that xxx these rulings pertain not to regular courts but to tribunals exercising quasi-judicial powers. With respect to the Sandiganbayan, Republic Act No. 8249 now provides that the special criminal court has exclusive original jurisdiction over petitions for the issuance of the writs of mandamus, prohibition, certiorari, habeas corpus, injunctions, and other ancillary writs and processes in aid of its appellate jurisdiction.

In the same manner, Section 5 (1), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution grants power to the Supreme Court, in the exercise of its original jurisdiction, to issue writs of certiorari, prohibition and mandamus. With respect to the Court of Appeals, Section 9 (1) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 (BP 129) gives the appellate court, also in the exercise of its original jurisdiction, the power to issue, among others, a writ of certiorari, whether or not in aid of its appellate jurisdiction. As to Regional Trial Courts, the power to issue a writ of certiorari, in the exercise of their original jurisdiction, is provided under Section 21 of BP 129.

The foregoing notwithstanding, while there is no express grant of such power, with respect to the CTA, Section 1, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides, nonetheless, that judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law and that judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.

On the strength of the above constitutional provisions, it can be fairly interpreted that the power of the CTA includes that of determining whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the RTC in issuing an interlocutory order in cases falling within the exclusive appellate jurisdiction of the tax court. It, thus, follows that the CTA, by constitutional mandate, is vested with jurisdiction to issue writs of certiorari in these cases.

Indeed, in order for any appellate court to effectively exercise its appellate jurisdiction, it must have the authority to issue, among others, a writ of certiorari. In transferring exclusive jurisdiction over appealed tax cases to the CTA, it can reasonably be assumed that the law intended to transfer also such power as is deemed necessary, if not indispensable, in aid of such appellate jurisdiction. There is no perceivable reason why the transfer should only be considered as partial, not total. (emphasis added)
Evidently, City of Manila can be considered as a departure from Ursal v. Court of Tax Appeals (101 Phil. 209) in that, in spite of there being no express grant in law, the CTA is deemed granted with powers of certiorari by implication. Moreover, City of Manila diametrically opposes British American Tobacco to the effect that it is now within the power of the CTA, through its power of certiorari, to rule on the validity of a particular administrative rule or regulation so long as it is within its appellate jurisdiction. Hence, it can now rule not only on the propriety of an assessment or tax treatment of a certain transaction, but also on the validity of the revenue regulation or revenue memorandum circular on which the said assessment is based.

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