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NATIONAL POWER CORPORATION vs. PROVINCE OF QUEZON - Real Property Tax


FACTS:

NPC is a GOCC that entered into an Energy Conversion Agreement (ECA) under a build-operate-transfer (BOT) arrangement with Mirant Pagbilao Corp. Under the agreement, Mirant will build and finance a thermal power plant in Quezon, and operate and maintain the same for 25 years, after which, Mirant will transfer the power plant to the Respondent without compensation. NPC also undertook to pay all taxes that the government may impose on Mirant. Quezon then assessed Mirant real property taxes on the power plant and its machineries.


ISSUES:

(1) Can Petitioner file the protest against the real property tax assessment?
(2) Can Petitioner claim exemption from the RPT given the BOT arrangement with Mirant?
(3) Is payment under protest required before an appeal to the LBAA is made?


HELD:

(1) NO. The two entities vested with personality to contest an assessment are (a) the owner or (b) the person with legal interest in the property. NPC is neither the owner nor the possessor/user of the subject machineries even if it will acquire ownership of the plant at the end of 25 years. The Court said that legal interest should be an interest that is actual and material, direct and immediate, not simply contingent or expectant. While the Petitioner does indeed assume responsibility for the taxes due on the power plant and its machineries, the tax liability referred to is the liability arising from law that the local government unit can rightfully and successfully enforce, not the contractual liability that is enforceable between the parties to a contract. The local government units can neither be compelled to recognize the protest of a tax assessment from the Petitioner, an entity against whom it cannot enforce the tax liability.

(2) NO. To successfully claim exemption under Section 234 (c) of the LGC, the claimant must prove two elements: a) the machineries and equipment are actually, directly, and exclusively used by local water districts and government-owned or controlled corporations; and b) the local water districts and government-owned and controlled corporations claiming exemption must be engaged in the supply and distribution of water and/or the generation and transmission of electric power. Since neither the Petitioner nor Mirant satisfies both requirements, the claim for exemption must fall.

(3) YES. If a taxpayer disputes the reasonableness of an increase in a real property tax assessment, he is required to "first pay the tax" under protest. The case of Ty does not apply as it involved a situation where the taxpayer was questioning the very authority and power of the assessor, acting solely and independently, to impose the assessment and of the treasurer to collect the tax. A claim for tax exemption, whether full or partial, does not question the authority of local assessors to assess real property tax.


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