Forfeiture of Senate seat for holding another government office

In Dante Liban, et al. vs. Richard J. Gordon,  G.R. No. 175352,  July 15, 2009, the petitioners filed with the Supreme Court a “Petition to Declare Richard J. Gordon as Having Forfeited His Seat in the Senate.”

During Gordon’s incumbency as a member of the Senate of the Philippines, he was elected Chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) during the 23 February 2006 meeting of the PNRC Board of Governors. Petitioners allege that by accepting the chairmanship of the PNRC Board of Governors, respondent has ceased to be a member of the Senate as provided in Section 13, Article VI of the Constitution, which reads:

SEC. 13. No Senator or Member of the House of Representatives may hold any other office or employment in the Government, or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries, during his term without forfeiting his seat. Neither shall he be appointed to any office which may have been created or the emoluments thereof increased during the term for which he was elected.

Petitioners cite Camporedondo vs. NLRC, which held that the PNRC is a government-owned or controlled corporation. Petitioners claim that in accepting and holding the position of Chairman of the PNRC Board of Governors, respondent automatically forfeited his seat in the Senate, pursuant to Flores vs. Drilon, which held that incumbent national legislators lose their elective posts upon their appointment to another government office.

The Supreme Court addressed the preliminary issue of whether the petitioners have standing to file the petition.  The Supreme Court answered in the negative:

. . . petitioners are alleging that by accepting the position of Chairman of the PNRC Board of Governors, respondent has automatically forfeited his seat in the Senate. In short, petitioners filed an action for usurpation of public office against respondent, a public officer who allegedly committed an act which constitutes a ground for the forfeiture of his public office. Clearly, such an action is for quo warranto, specifically under Section 1(b), Rule 66 of the Rules of Court.

Quo warranto is generally commenced by the Government as the proper party plaintiff. However, under Section 5, Rule 66 of the Rules of Court, an individual may commence such an action if he claims to be entitled to the public office allegedly usurped by another, in which case he can bring the action in his own name. The person instituting quo warranto proceedings in his own behalf must claim and be able to show that he is entitled to the office in dispute, otherwise the action may be dismissed at any stage. In the present case, petitioners do not claim to be entitled to the Senate office of respondent. Clearly, petitioners have no standing to file the present petition.

On the merits, the Supreme Court ruled that PNPRC is a private organization performing public functions:

“The PNRC is not government-owned but privately owned. The vast majority of the thousands of PNRC members are private individuals, including students. Under the PNRC Charter, those who contribute to the annual fund campaign of the PNRC are entitled to membership in the PNRC for one year. Thus, any one between 6 and 65 years of age can be a PNRC member for one year upon contributing P35, P100, P300, P500 or P1,000 for the year. Even foreigners, whether residents or not, can be members of the PNRC. . .

. . . the PNRC is a privately owned, privately funded, and privately run charitable organization. The PNRC is not a government-owned or controlled corporation.

Petitioners anchor their petition on the 1999 case of Camporedondo v. NLRC, which ruled that the PNRC is a government-owned or controlled corporation. In ruling that the PNRC is a government-owned or controlled corporation, the simple test used was whether the corporation was created by its own special charter for the exercise of a public function or by incorporation under the general corporation law. Since the PNRC was created under a special charter, the Court then ruled that it is a government corporation. However, the Camporedondo ruling failed to consider the definition of a government-owned or controlled corporation as provided under Section 2(13) of the Introductory Provisions of the Administrative Code of 1987. . .

A government-owned or controlled corporation must be owned by the government, and in the case of a stock corporation, at least a majority of its capital stock must be owned by the government. In the case of a non-stock corporation, by analogy at least a majority of the members must be government officials holding such membership by appointment or designation by the government. Under this criterion, and as discussed earlier, the government does not own or control PNRC.

Finally, the Supreme Court held that the PNRC Charter is violative of the constitutional proscription against the creation of private corporations by special law, as provided in Article XII, Section 16 of the Constitution:

Congress cannot enact a law creating a private corporation with a special charter. Such legislation would be unconstitutional. Private corporations may exist only under a general law. If the corporation is private, it must necessarily exist under a general law. Stated differently, only corporations created under a general law can qualify as private corporations. Under existing laws, the general law is the Corporation Code, except that the Cooperative Code governs the incorporation of cooperatives.

The Constitution authorizes Congress to create government-owned or controlled corporations through special charters. Since private corporations cannot have special charters, it follows that Congress can create corporations with special charters only if such corporations are government-owned or controlled. . .

. . . although the PNRC is created by a special charter, it cannot be considered a government-owned or controlled corporation in the absence of the essential elements of ownership and control by the government. In creating the PNRC as a corporate entity, Congress was in fact creating a private corporation. However, the constitutional prohibition against the creation of private corporations by special charters provides no exception even for non-profit or charitable corporations. Consequently, the PNRC Charter, insofar as it creates the PNRC as a private corporation and grants it corporate powers, is void for being unconstitutional. Thus, Sections 1, 2, 3, 4(a), 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 of the PNRC Charter, as amended, are void.