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Saturnino David, the then Collector of Internal Revenue (CIR), ordered the taxing of Justice Pastor Endencia’s and Justice Fernando Jugo’s (and other judges’) salary pursuant to Sec. 13 of Republic Act No. 590 which provides that
No salary wherever received by any public officer of the Republic of the Philippines shall be considered as exempt from the income tax, payment of which is hereby declared not to be a diminution of his compensation fixed by the Constitution or by law.
The judges however argued that under the case of Perfecto vs Meer, judges are exempt from taxation – this is also in observance of the doctrine of separation of powers, i.e., the executive, to which the Internal Revenue reports, is separate from the judiciary; that under the Constitution, the judiciary is independent and the salaries of judges may not be diminished by the other branches of government; that taxing their salaries is already a diminution of their benefits/salaries (see Section 9, Art. VIII, Constitution).
The Solicitor General, arguing in behalf of the CIR, states that the decision in Perfecto vs Meer was rendered ineffective when Congress enacted Republic Act No. 590.
ISSUE: Whether or not Sec 13 of RA 590 is constitutional.
HELD: No. The said provision is a violation of the separation of powers. Only courts have the power to interpret laws. Congress makes laws but courts interpret them. In Sec. 13, R.A. 590, Congress is already encroaching upon the functions of the courts when it inserted the phrase: “payment of which [tax] is hereby declared not to be a diminution of his compensation fixed by the Constitution or by law.”
Here, Congress is already saying that imposing taxes upon judges is not a diminution of their salary. This is a clear example of interpretation or ascertainment of the meaning of the phrase “which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office,” found in Section 9, Article VIII of the Constitution, referring to the salaries of judicial officers. This act of interpreting the Constitution or any part thereof by the Legislature is an invasion of the well-defined and established province and jurisdiction of the Judiciary.
The rule is recognized elsewhere that the legislature cannot pass any declaratory act, or act declaratory of what the law was before its passage, so as to give it any binding weight with the courts. A legislative definition of a word as used in a statute is not conclusive of its meaning as used elsewhere; otherwise, the legislature would be usurping a judicial function in defining a term.
The interpretation and application of the Constitution and of statutes is within the exclusive province and jurisdiction of the judicial department, and that in enacting a law, the Legislature may not legally provide therein that it be interpreted in such a way that it may not violate a Constitutional prohibition, thereby tying the hands of the courts in their task of later interpreting said statute, especially when the interpretation sought and provided in said statute runs counter to a previous interpretation already given in a case by the highest court of the land.