Supreme Court Hearing on Constitutionality
Byline: REY G. PANALIGAN
Government lawyers yesterday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to dismiss four petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Expanded Value-Added Tax Act of 2005 (EVAT) whose implementation was stopped temporarily by the court last July 1.
The plea was contained in a 150page comment filed by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), a copy of which was obtained by the Manila Bulletin on the eve of the public hearing on the petitions set today.
In a press statement issued late last week, the High Court said that it is giving priority to the EVAT cases and vowed to resolve the issue in a months time. Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo, in behalf of the Department of Finance, told the Supreme Court that the four petitions against EVAT failed to show "clear and unequivocal breach of the Constitution."
"The petitioners, collectively and separately, failed to unequivocally cast doubt on the validity of Republic Act No. 9337 (the EVAT Act), much less prove any violation of the Constitution beyond reasonable doubt," Benipayo said.
Originally, the public hearing (oral argument) on the four petitions was set by the High Court on July 26. However, when the government sought the lifting of the temporary restraining order (TRO), the members of the court agreed to advance the hearing today.
Expected to engaged in legal skirmishes today are Benipayo and his assistants, on one side, and the lawyers of minority members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, petroleum dealers and motorists association, and the ABAKADA Guro partylist, on the other.
Supreme Court justices, led by Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. who voted against the issuance of a TRO, are also expected to propound questions on RA 9337.
According to the petitions, RA 9337 is unconstitutional because the bicameral conference committee mangled the bills that came from both the House and the Senate. Among other things, they pointed out that the bicameral conference committee deleted the provision for "no pass-on" to consumers of the VAT on the sale of petroleum products and electricity.
They also said that the "standby authority" given to the President to increase the VAT from 10 to 12 per cent next year is unconstitutional since only Congress has the exclusive tax power.
But Benipayo said the "standby authority" given to the President is not tantamount to a power of legislation.
"The EVAT law merely directs the President to implement the VAT rate increase to 12 per cent on Jan. 1, 2006, when any of the two conditions set by Congress is satisfied," he said.
At the same time, Benipayo said, the bicameral conference committee has the prerogative to make amendments in the bills and it is possible that the committee, itself, may in fact approve an entirely new bill. …