Hence, the present recourse, where petitioner raises the lone issue of whether the Formal Letter of Demand dated July 16, 2004 can be construed as a final decision of the CIR appealable to the CTA under RA 9282.
The petition is meritorious.
Section 7 of RA 9282 expressly provides that the CTA exercises exclusive appellate jurisdiction to review by appeal decisions of the CIR in cases involving disputed assessments
The CTA, being a court of special jurisdiction, can take cognizance only of
matters that are clearly within its jurisdiction. Section 7 of RA 9282 provides:
Sec. 7. Jurisdiction. — The CTA shall exercise:
(a) Exclusive appellate jurisdiction to review by appeal, as herein provided:
(1) Decisions of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in cases involving disputed assessments, refunds of internal revenue taxes, fees or other charges, penalties in relation thereto, or other matters arising under the National Internal Revenue Code or other laws administered by the Bureau of Internal Revenue;
(2) Inaction by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in cases involving disputed assessments, refunds of internal revenue taxes, fees or other charges, penalties in relation thereto, or other matters arising under the National Internal Revenue Code or other laws administered by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, where the National Internal Revenue Code provides a specific period of action, in which case the inaction shall be deemed a denial; (Emphasis supplied)
x x x x
The word “decisions” in the above quoted provision of RA 9282 has been interpreted to mean the decisions of the CIR on the protest of the taxpayer against the assessments. Corollary thereto, Section 228 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) provides for the procedure for protesting an assessment. It states:
SECTION 228. Protesting of Assessment. – When the Commissioner or his duly authorized representative finds that proper taxes should be assessed, he shall first notify the taxpayer of his findings: Provided, however, That a preassessment notice shall not be required in the following cases:
(a) When the finding for any deficiency tax is the result of mathematical error in the computation of the tax as appearing on the face of the return; or
(b) When a discrepancy has been determined between the tax withheld and the amount actually remitted by the withholding agent; or
(c) When a taxpayer who opted to claim a refund or tax credit of excess creditable withholding tax for a taxable period was determined to have carried over and automatically applied the same amount claimed against the estimated tax liabilities for the taxable quarter or quarters of the succeeding taxable year; or
(d) When the excise tax due on excisable articles has not been paid; or
(e) When an article locally purchased or imported by an exempt person, such as, but not limited to, vehicles, capital equipment, machineries and spare parts, has been sold, traded or transferred to non-exempt persons.
The taxpayers shall be informed in writing of the law and the facts on which the assessment is made; otherwise, the assessment shall be void.
Within a period to be prescribed by implementing rules and regulations, the taxpayer shall be required to respond to said notice. If the taxpayer fails to respond, the Commissioner or his duly authorized representative shall issue an assessment based on his findings.
Such assessment may be protested administratively by filing a request for reconsideration or reinvestigation within thirty (30) days from receipt of the assessment in such form and manner as may be prescribed by implementing rules and regulations. Within sixty (60) days from filing of the protest, all relevant supporting documents shall have been submitted; otherwise, the assessment shall become final.
If the protest is denied in whole or in part, or is not acted upon within one hundred eighty (180) days from submission of documents, the taxpayer adversely affected by the decision or inaction may appeal to the Court of Tax Appeals within thirty (30) days from receipt of the said decision, or from the lapse of the one hundred eighty (180)-day period; otherwise, the decision shall become final, executory and demandable.
In the instant case, petitioner timely filed a protest after receiving the PAN. In response thereto, the BIR issued a Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices. Pursuant to Section 228 of the NIRC, the proper recourse of petitioner was to dispute the assessments by filing an administrative protest within 30 days from receipt thereof. Petitioner, however, did not protest the final assessment notices. Instead, it filed a Petition for Review with the CTA. Thus, if we strictly apply the rules, the dismissal of the Petition for Review by the CTA was proper.
The case is an exception to the
rule on exhaustion of administrative remedies
However, a careful reading of the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices leads us to agree with petitioner that the instant case is an exception to the rule on exhaustion of administrative remedies, i.e., estoppel on the part of the administrative agency concerned.
In the case of Vda. De Tan v. Veterans Backpay Commission, the respondent contended that before filing a petition with the court, petitioner should have first exhausted all administrative remedies by appealing to the Office of the President. However, we ruled that respondent was estopped from invoking the rule on exhaustion of administrative remedies considering that in its Resolution, it said, “The opinions promulgated by the Secretary of Justice are advisory in nature, which may either be accepted or ignored by the office seeking the opinion, and any aggrieved party has the court for recourse”. The statement of the respondent in said case led the petitioner to conclude that only a final judicial ruling in her favor would be accepted by the Commission.
Similarly, in this case, we find the CIR estopped from claiming that the filing of the Petition for Review was premature because petitioner failed to exhaust all administrative remedies.
The Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices reads:
Based on your letter-protest dated May 26, 2004, you alleged the following:
1. That the said assessment has already prescribed in accordance with the provisions of Section 203 of the Tax Code.
2. That since the exemption of FCDUs from all taxes found in the Old Tax Code has been deleted, the wording of Section 28(A)(7)(b) discloses that there are no other taxes imposable upon FCDUs aside from the 10% Final Income Tax.
Contrary to your allegation, the assessments covering GRT and DST for taxable year 2001 has not prescribed for [sic] simply because no returns were filed, thus, the three year prescriptive period has not lapsed.
With the implementation of the CTRP, the phrase “exempt from all taxes” was deleted. Please refer to Section 27(D)(3) and 28(A)(7) of the new Tax Code. Accordingly, you were assessed for deficiency gross receipts tax on onshore income from foreign currency transactions in accordance with the rates provided under Section 121 of the said Tax Code. Likewise, deficiency documentary stamp taxes was [sic] also assessed on Loan Agreements, Bills Purchased, Certificate of Deposits and related transactions pursuant to Sections 180 and 181 of NIRC, as amended.
The 25% surcharge and 20% interest have been imposed pursuant to the provision of Section 248(A) and 249(b), respectively, of the National Internal Revenue Code, as amended.
It is requested that the above deficiency tax be paid immediately upon receipt hereof, inclusive of penalties incident to delinquency. This is our final decision based on investigation. If you disagree, you may appeal this final decision within thirty (30) days from receipt hereof, otherwise said deficiency tax assessment shall become final, executory and demandable. (Emphasis supplied)
It appears from the foregoing demand letter that the CIR has already made a final decision on the matter and that the remedy of petitioner is to appeal the final decision within 30 days.
In Oceanic Wireless Network, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, we considered the language used and the tenor of the letter sent to the taxpayer as the final decision of the CIR.
In this case, records show that petitioner disputed the PAN but not the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices. Nevertheless, we cannot blame petitioner for not filing a protest against the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices since the language used and the tenor of the demand letter indicate that it is the final decision of the respondent on the matter. We have time and again reminded the CIR to indicate, in a clear and unequivocal language, whether his action on a disputed assessment constitutes his final determination thereon in order for the taxpayer concerned to determine when his or her right to appeal to the tax court accrues. Viewed in the light of the foregoing, respondent is now estopped from claiming that he did not intend the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices to be a final decision.
Moreover, we cannot ignore the fact that in the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices, respondent used the word “appeal” instead of “protest”, “reinvestigation”, or “reconsideration”. Although there was no direct reference for petitioner to bring the matter directly to the CTA, it cannot be denied that the word “appeal” under prevailing tax laws refers to the filing of a Petition for Review with the CTA. As aptly pointed out by petitioner, under Section 228 of the NIRC, the terms “protest”, “reinvestigation” and “reconsideration” refer to the administrative remedies a taxpayer may take before the CIR, while the term “appeal” refers to the remedy available to the taxpayer before the CTA. Section 9 of RA 9282, amending Section 11 of RA 1125, likewise uses the term “appeal” when referring to the action a taxpayer must take when adversely affected by a decision, ruling, or inaction of the CIR. As we see it then, petitioner in appealing the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices to the CTA merely took the cue from respondent. Besides, any doubt in the interpretation or use of the word “appeal” in the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices should be resolved in favor of petitioner, and not the respondent who caused the confusion.
To be clear, we are not disregarding the rules of procedure under Section 228 of the NIRC, as implemented by Section 3 of BIR Revenue Regulations No. 12-99. It is the Formal Letter of Demand and Assessment Notice that must be administratively protested or disputed within 30 days, and not the PAN. Neither are we deviating from our pronouncement in St. Stephen’s Chinese Girl’s School v. Collector of Internal Revenue, that the counting of the 30 days within which to institute an appeal in the CTA commences from the date of receipt of the decision of the CIR on the disputed assessment, not from the date the assessment was issued.
What we are saying in this particular case is that, the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices which was not administratively protested by the petitioner can be considered a final decision of the CIR appealable to the CTA because the words used, specifically the words “final decision” and “appeal”, taken together led petitioner to believe that the Formal Letter of Demand with Assessment Notices was in fact the final decision of the CIR on the letter-protest it filed and that the available remedy was to appeal the same to the CTA.