Bid to tax church-run schools a 'wake-up call,' says priest-dean

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 07 2017 05:09 PM | Updated as of Mar 07 2017 08:09 PM

MANILA - Remarks about expensive and constantly increasing tuition charged by church-run schools should be a wake up call for the Catholic Church, a priest working in the academe said Tuesday, in light of a lawmaker's proposal to look into the church's compliance with tax laws.

"It's really very hard to insist that we have options for the poor pero Catholic schools naman are pricey na only the rich can afford. Talagang wake-up call sa amin yan," Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda College of Law, told DZMM.

(It's really very hard to insist that we have options for the poor but Catholic schools are pricey that only the rich can afford. This is really a wake-up call for us.)

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Monday said that the Catholic Church and other religious groups should be taxed for running schools and renting out property because these fall outside "non-stock, non-profit" activities.

According to Aquino, while it is true that private schools, church-run or not, gain profit from students' payments, there is a reason why these are considered "non-stock, non-profit."

"A well-run school will make some profit. But you call it 'non-profit' because ang kita ay hindi mapupunta sa miyembro kundi sa operasyon ng eskuwela," he explained further.

(A well-run school will make some profit. But you call it 'non-profit' because the profit does not go the members, but to the operations of the school.)

According to Aquino, private schools have their own audit and are also required to submit their statements to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), even if these institutions are not taxed.

He also added the private schools follow standards set by regulatory bodies, such as the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) for tertiary education. 

"You have to pay for quality. If you want to get good teachers, you have to pay them well," he said, stressing the fact that state universities and colleges (SUCs) get funds from the government.

However, he said that if a private school ventures into activities that gain some profit that do not go directly for education, like renting out buildings, these will be taxed.

Aquino said the Constitution provides tax incentives for private colleges and universities because they are doing a service that the government cannot provide.

He said that in the Philippines, a larger percentage of college students are in private schools because the number of SUCs is small compared to the total studying population. 

Latest data from the CHED for the school year 2015-2016 show that there are only 112 SUCs and 102 local universities and colleges (LUC) in the Philippines, as opposed to 1,706 private schools for tertiary level.

"Kung hindi makakaya ng estado na i-absorb silang lahat (students), you have to put up a campus, you have to put up buildings, you have to raise payment for teachers and employees. You have to buy all your equipment, which explains kung bakit mataas ang singil at kung bakit binibigyan sila ng tax exemption," he said.

(If the state cannot absorb all of the students, you have to put up a campus, you have to put up buildings, you have to raise payments for teachers and employees. You have to buy all your equipment which explains why the tuition is high and why they are being exempted from paying taxes.)

Aquino said he considers it a problem that many of private schools are "elitists," and added that it is a good time now to discuss these institutions' purpose. 

But, he said, while many popular Catholic schools in Metro Manila like Ateneo and La Salle are considered expensive, there are still a lot of good private schools in the provinces that are affordable, like St. Louis University in Baguio. 

He added that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has been consistent in reminding Catholic schools "to keep their charges between the limit of students' ability to pay."

Aquino said he is open to discussions on the possibility of taxing church-run schools. But the public should also understand the reason behind the tax incentives.

He also said he welcomes the idea of opening the gates of private schools to low-income families, but these schools should also get help in their expenses. 

"Let the church be true to its options for the poor. Let's open the gates of these universities to low-income families. But the next question is, how do you help these schools also finance themselves," he said.