SANTIAGO CITY, Isabela: The Court of Appeals (CA) has declared null and void an ordinance approved by the city government here that requires the payment of tower fees from telephone companies operating cell cites within the city.
Chaired by Associate Justice Vicente Veloso, the appellate court’s 11th Division promulgated with finality a resolution on December 18, 2014 dismissing the motion for reconsideration filed by the city government, in effect affirming the CA’s earlier decision in favor of Globe Telecom’s stance against the imposition of tower fees without proper basis.
The Santiago City government passed an ordinance in August 2008 requiring telecommunication operators to pay P200,000 annually for each communication tower or cell site.
Globe Telecom questioned the legality of the ordinance, which imposed a huge amount of fees, and appealed before the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ dismissed the appeal though, prompting the city to issue a tax assessment of P5.9 million in tower fees covering the period from 2008 to 2010.
Globe questioned the amount and assailed the validity of the ordinance before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Santiago City. In May 2012, the RTC decided in favor of the ordinance and upheld the decision of the DOJ.
The case was then elevated to the CA, which ruled in favor of Globe in May 2014. The CA declared the city ordinance null and void.
The CA stated: “Evidently, there is no reasonable relation between the city government’s imposition of tower fees and the promotion of health, morals, good order, safety or the general welfare of the people.”
“What is more, we cannot allow the imposition of tower fees in the amount of P200,000 as the same is patently oppressive, confiscatory and prohibitive. It bears stressing that a fee, as defined by the Local Government Code, is a charge fixed by law or ordinance for the regulation or inspection of a business or activity” it added.
The CA also said that in order to be considered a license fee, such payment must be related to an occupation or activity that involves public interest in health, morals, safety and development.
In imposing the tower fees, the city government of Santiago has cited as its basis the provision in the General Welfare clause of Local Government Code (LGC) of 1991. The city government said the local government is empowered “to adopt ordinances to secure peace, safety, health, morals and the best and highest interests of the municipality.”
But the CA said “there is that need for a reasonable basis in determining the burden imposed by the local government in the exercise of its power.”
“In the absence of justification to provide reasonable relation between the right sought to be regulated and the tower fee being charged, the ordinance must be struck down for being unreasonable, confiscatory and arbitrary in nature,” the CA said.