SC: No discount for senior’s soda purchase in cooperative
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has reversed an appellate court’s decision affirming the jail sentence and fine meted out by a lower court against a Silliman University Cooperative manager who refused eight times to give a 20-percent discount to a senior citizen who “was fond of soft drinks” in 2011.
According to the ruling of the high tribunal’s Third Division dated Oct. 7, 2020, but released only last week, cooperatives that run canteens are exempt from giving its elderly members the mandated 20-percent discount for seniors.
“As a tax-exempt entity, the Silliman University Cooperative could not have availed of a tax deduction to offset a portion of the senior citizen discounts it issued to its clients, whether member or non-member,” the high court said in a decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
“Thus, to insist that it was nevertheless mandated to issue a 20-percent discount would have been confiscatory and a deprivation of private property without due process of law,” it added.
Private establishments that give discounts to those age 60 or more get a return of the discounts they extend through a tax deduction.
The Third Division’s ruling was based on a case filed in 2012 by Manuel Utzurrum Jr., a member of the Silliman University Cooperative — whom the court noted was “fond of soft drinks” — against Roberto Estoconing, a professor of the university who was also the cooperative general manager.
Based on his complaint, Utzurrum said that on the seven instances he bought soda from the canteen managed by the cooperative, he asked for but was not given a senior citizen’s discount.
When he was denied an eighth time, he filed an information against Estoconing for violating the Expanded Senior Citizens Act on Jan. 9, 2012.
In his defense, the respondent said that the cooperative was exempted from the law. He added that Utzurrum, as a member-owner, received the annual patronage refund, disqualifying him from demanding the 20-percent discount for seniors under the law’s no double discount provision.
In July 2014, the Municipal Trial Court Branch 2 in Cities, Dumaguete City, however, found Estoconing guilty and sentenced him to a prison term ranging from two to three years and to pay a fine of P50,000.
The lower court ruled that since the cooperative sold drinks and meals and provided tables and chairs to customers, it was considered a restaurant under the Expanded Senior Citizens Act’s implementing rules and regulations.
The court also pointed out that the defense failed to substantiate its claim that it was exempted from the said law.
Estoconing filed an appeal but in December that same year, the Dumaguete City Regional Trial Court Branch 32 denied his petition. He went to the Court of Appeals which, however, upheld the lower court’s decision.
The Supreme Court referred to Congress the need to harmonize the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010 and the Philippine Cooperative Code of 2008.
“Given the possible ambiguity in the interpretation of the two laws, we find that the prosecution was unable to support its claim beyond reasonable doubt that the Silliman University Cooperative, as a restaurant operator, was obligated to issue a 20-percent senior citizen discount to senior citizen members and non-members,” the high court said.
For Utzurrum, the high tribunal suggested that he make a choice, saying he could continue to patronize the cooperative or find a private establishment selling his favorite soda at a discounted rate.
“Life is full of choices; this is not the most difficult of them,” it said.
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