[G.R. No. 12362. August 29, 1917. ]
THE UNITED STATES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. PEDRO ABEJO, Defendant-Appellant.
A. J. Burke for Appellant.
Attorney-General Avanceña for Appellee.
1. TAXATION; DELINQUENCY. — The term delinquency, as used in the laws relating to taxation of property, has reference to the state of a person upon whom the obligation to pay the tax has been fixed by lawful assessment and who thereafter fails to pay the tax within the time limited by law. A person may become delinquent although he is not the actual owner, as in the case where a man declares property in his own name when in fact it belongs to another person.
2. ELECTOR’S OATH; FALSE OATH. — The accused made a declaration of a piece of property for taxation in his own name and thereby caused it to be assessed to himself. At the time he took the elector’s oath he was knowingly delinquent in the payment of the taxes on this property. It was held that he was guilty of making a false oath contrary to the provisions of the fourth paragraph of section 30 of Act No. 1582.
D E C I S I O N
The defendant in this case, Pedro Abejo, appeals from the sentence of the Court of First Instance of Misamis finding him guilty of violating the fourth paragraph of section 30 of Act No. 1582. It appears in evidence that upon May 6, 1916, the defendant took the oath prescribed for electors as a prerequisite to registration for the election held in June of that year. In this oath the defendant stated that he was not delinquent in the payment of any public taxes assessed against or due from him since August 13, 1898. The prosecution is based upon a complaint which alleges that this oath was false inasmuch as the defendant was, at the time the oath was taken, knowingly delinquent in the taxes due upon certain parcels of land assessed against him for the year 1915.
It fully appears in evidence that from the time the property in question was first assessed in 1906, it has been assessed in the name of the defendant. The original declarations of the property for taxation were signed and sworn to by him; and when the new assessment was made under Act No. 2238 the property was again assessed against him in his presence and with his consent; and no protest against this assessment or appeal therefrom was ever made or taken by him. It is also shown that the tax on this property for the year 1915 had not been paid at the time the defendant took the elector’s oath and that it remained unpaid until July 16, 1916.
No sufficient proof is submitted showing ignorance on his part of the fact that the taxes had not been paid; and in the absence of such proof it must be assumed that the defendant was aware of this fact. (U. S. v. Estavillo, 19 Phil. Rep., 478.)
The defense interposed rests upon the contention that the property is improperly assessed in the defendant’s name, inasmuch as it really belongs to the four heirs of Silvestre Zamarro who died nearly twenty years ago, the wife of the defendant being one of these heirs. It is shown that the inheritance has never been divided; and the defendant claims that many years ago while some of the heirs were yet minors, he exercised a supervision over the property in the interest of all and had it assessed in his own name because of this fact, and that it had ever afterwards remained assessed in his name with the knowledge and consent of the heirs. The defendant is here supported by the testimony of Jose Zamarro, one of the coheirs and coowners of the property; and we consider this contention to be established by the proof.
The question in this case therefore is whether or not a person can be delinquent in the sense intended in the elector’s oath when he is not actually the owner of the property assessed in his name.
It seems probable that the word "delinquent" is used in the elector’s oath in the same sense in which it is used in the law relating to the assessment of real property; and upon reference to our system of taxing real property the following features appear conspicuous. The tax is primarily imposed on the real property itself, but for convenience in the collection of the tax, the law contemplates the existence of an individual to whom the authorities may look for its payment. This person is naturally and primarily the owner, and the law accordingly imposes on him the duty to see that the property is declared for taxation and provides a remedy by which, it aggrieved, he may obtain a review of the assessment by the proper authorities. When the tax has once been lawfully assessed, a period is fixed during which it may be paid each year; and if it is not paid within such period, the taxpayer is said to be delinquent.
It may be observed that while the law speaks of the "owner" in connection with the making of the declaration and other steps incident to the assessment, but little reference is had to the "owner" or "ownership" in those provisions which relate to steps taken after the tax has become due. Instead of "owner" the law now begins to speak of the "taxpayer" or the "delinquent." The law seems to have little or no concern about the owner or the ownership of the property after some person has been found who will assume the responsibility of ownership and upon whom liability for the tax can be fixed. (Compare the chapter entitled Assessment Law in the Administrative Code.)
When regularly assessed the tax becomes a personal obligation of the taxpayer or individual in whose name the property is listed. In this connection it may be noted that the law expressly implies upon him the duty to pay the tax and that if he fails to pay it his personal property may be seized and sold under process of distraint. A certificate issued by the provincial treasurer showing the delinquency of any person in whose name the property is assessed has all the force of an execution issued upon the judgment of a court; and it would appear to be obvious that the taxpayer could not defeat the process of distraint by claiming that the property which had been taxed was improperly listed in his name. It is true that the remedies for the collection of the tax are special remedies, and the law does not allow the Government to sue for the recovery of the tax as upon an ordinary civil obligation. In this respect the obligation of the taxpayer is imperfect. But we do not think that this circumstance invalidates the conclusion that the tax is a personal obligation against him. Nor is such conclusion affected by the further fact that the tax is made a lien upon the property itself.
It is therefore apparent that the term "delinquent," as used in the law relating to the taxation of real property, has reference to the state of a person upon whom the personal obligation to pay the tax has been fixed by lawful assessment and who thereafter fails to pay the tax within the time limited by law. In this sense a person may be delinquent although he is not the actual owner, the question being, first, whether or not the liability for the tax has become conclusively fixed upon him, and secondly, whether he has failed to pay within the lawful period.
Such being the meaning of the word "delinquent," as used in the Assessment Law, it should in our opinion be held to have the same meaning in the elector’s oath. It results that the defense interposed in this case is insufficient.
The trial judge in this cause sentenced the defendant to four months imprisonment. We believe, however, that the interest of justice will be better served by relieving the defendant of the penalty of imprisonment and imposing upon him, in lieu thereof, a fine of P200, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, and costs of both instances, So ordered.
Arellano, C.J., Johnson, Carson, Araullo and Malcolm, JJ., concur.