Shaky ground

Published by rudy Date posted on November 4, 2011

Laws and ordinances are enacted primarily to cover more specific and detailed aspects of the ever changing situations in our society that cannot be covered by the Constitution which is broader, briefer and more or less permanent but not self-executory. These laws and ordinances are supposed to implement and thus, must conform to, the provisions of our Constitution.

In our system of government the enactment of laws and ordinances entails a process where public hearings and inquiries are normally conducted. In case of ordinances, these public hearings and consultations are conducted by the members of the city or municipal council to aid them in formulating the ordinance. Then after its formulation, the ordinance has to undergo three readings on separate days of plenary sessions where it will be subjected to debates, amendments and corrections if any, before they are passed and sent to the City or Municipal Mayor for final approval.

Going through this meticulous process plus the supposed close scrutiny of the members of the city or municipal council ensure the production of well crafted and almost impeccable piece of legislation that could be implemented without so much hassle and controversy. Unfortunately this seems not to be the case with respect to Ordinance No. SP-2095, S2011 recently enacted by City Council of Quezon City otherwise known as the “Socialized Housing Tax (SHT) of Quezon City”.

The SHT of QC is undoubtedly an exercise of the city government’s power to tax which is one of the three inherent powers of the government, the others being the police power and the power of eminent domain. As such, its exercise is limited by the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. Hence with more reason should there be thorough and extensive public hearings in compliance with the “due process of law”.

In the case of the SHT ordinance, only two public hearings were allegedly scheduled on December 9, 2010 and January 19, 2011. It is truly admirable to see the City Councilors diligently and dedicatedly doing their jobs even in the midst of, and right after the Christmas holidays. But holding public hearings on such an important measure during the holiday season somehow creates the impression that they were conducted merely as a token and not a substantial compliance with the requirements of the charter.

Considering that the measure imposes additional burden on the taxpayers, the City Council should have conducted longer and broader public consultations. In fact, the Local Government Code itself, which is the basic law granting local government units the power to tax, requires notice in writing to all the taxpayers who will be affected by such measure so that they can express their stand on it. Obviously such requirement was not complied with. The City Council itself admitted such omission when it had to recently come out with expensive two-page ads in major newspapers explaining, defending and reproducing the controversial ordinance. Had the proper procedure been strictly followed, the council need not have to come out with and spent so much for those two-page ads.

It bears stressing that the SHT ordinance imposing additional tax burdens on some residents may eventually result in deprivation of property since the City may levy and sell it for tax delinquency because of failure to pay the realty taxes. Already, a couple of retired teachers in the Teacher’s Village have expressed fears of such eventuality considering that their current financial situation is just enough to shoulder the taxes of the lots on which their houses are erected, aside from their daily subsistence. They complained that they have not been informed of such new measure beforehand. For sure there are other residents similarly situated. Apparently therefore, the SHT ordinance may be in violation of the Constitution providing that “No person shall be deprived of…property without due process of law” (Article III Section 1).

As provided in the SHT ordinance only those who own lands in QC with assessed value of P100,001 or more will bear the additional tax of 0.5 percent of the assessed value of their residential lots. In all likelihood, according to the published “Guide” this will cover only 13 percent of the residential lots. Obviously, not all residents with lots are treated “alike under like circumstances and conditions both in the privileges conferred and liabilities imposed”. Thus it may constitute a violation of the “equal protection of the law” (1 Cooley, 824-825) since it may amount to “class legislation”.

Class legislations refer to enactments which make arbitrary discriminations between persons or things coming within the same class either in the grant of privileges or imposition of burdens (Black’s Law Dictionary, 315). In this case, the class referred to are the residential lot owners in QC who pay real property taxes thereon. Undoubtedly the SHT ordinance is not equally applied to all the residential lot owners but only to 13 percent of them. So the classification is not reasonable.

The basis of the classification is also arbitrary. The QC council says that it wanted to make sure that the SHT will not affect those who cannot afford to pay for the additional tax. Certainly, there is not much distinction between a taxpayer owning a residential lot with an assessed value of P100,000 from a taxpayer owning a residential lot with an assessed value of P100,001. But pursuant to the SHT ordinance only the latter will be subject to the additional 0.5 percent tax.

The Lina Law (RA 7279) allegedly used as basis of the SHT ordinance is in itself of doubtful constitutional validity as it also seems to be a class legislation contrary to the equal protection clause of the Constitution. So both the SHT ordinance and its legal basis, the Lina Law, may not be standing on solid constitutional grounds.

Of course removal of the City’s urban blight is a noble project and should be the concern of all residents. But the end does not justify the means. Besides the residents are already doing their part with their socialized housing projects. If the City council likes to do the same project, it should not impose the additional burden on the residents and then later on grab the credit by posting their names in bold letters as the projects’ “sponsors”. –Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star)

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