Consular Relations With Filipino Dancers

by Roger Alford

Who could have thought a tax case could be so … exotic? On remand from the Supreme Court in the case of New York City v. Permanent Mission of India, Judge Rakoff was required to rule on whether New York City could recover property taxes from the Philippines, India, and Mongolia on portions of buildings used for non-consular purposes. But in order to do so the court had to distinguish between consular and non-consular purposes.

In the case of the Philippines, some of the property was leased by the Philippines government to a Philippine restaurant, Philippine bank (PNB), and Philippine airline (PAL). The question was whether any of those entities were performing consular functions within the meaning of the VCCR. The court ruled that the restaurant, but not the bank, was performing consular functions. The court was also quite emphatic that they did not have consular relations with that airline, PAL.

As the court noted, Article 5 of the VCCR “defines the purposes of a consular post broadly, by reference to its functions, i.e., ‘furthering the development of commercial, economic, cultural and scientific relations between the sending State and the receiving State’, ‘protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals’, ‘ascertaining … conditions and developments in the commercial, economic, cultural and scientific life of the receiving state, reporting thereon to the Government of the sending state’, and ‘helping and assisting nationals, both individuals and bodies corporate, of the sending State.'”

In assessing whether the restaurant performed such functions, the Court noted that from 1974 to 1982 the Philippine Center leased property to the Maharlika Restaurant, which “served authentic Filipino cuisine, employed Filipinos only, and was staffed with a Filipino dance troupe and musicians who performed a show during dinner. Through its culinary offerings and the evening performance, Maharlika showcased Philippine culture, folk art, ethnic music and dance to guests of the Mission and the Consulate General.”

That was good enough for the court to find that the restaurant fell within the definition of consular relations. The purpose of the restaurant was to showcase Filipino culture, not to earn a profit. It did so by hiring only Filipino employees, presenting long Filipino dinner shows, and hosting official Philippine functions. “Maharlika was thus used exclusively for a consular purpose, and so is exempt under the VCCR.”

I love it. As long as there is Filipino dancing you fall within Article 5’s definition of “furthering the development of commercial, economic, cultural and scientific relations between the sending State and the receiving State.” As for the lease with the Philippine bank and Philippine airline, no that just won’t do. Far too much focus on Filipino commercial and economic relations, and not nearly enough emphasis on Filipino culture.

Now if the bank tellers had just doubled as Filipino dancers while serving customers, well, … who knows, perhaps Filipino “teller and dancing” would suffice. Based on this YouTube video of the well-known Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company, it looks like they could multi-task.

Comments are closed.