Doctrine of Parens Patriae

DOCTRINE OF PARENS PATRIAE - In Fontain vs. Ravenel (17 How., 369, 384), Mr. Justice McLean, delivering the opinion of the court in a charity case, said:

"When this country achieved its independence, the prerogatives of the crown devolved upon the people of the States. And this power still remains with them except so far as they have delegated a portion of it to the Federal Government. The sovereign will is made known to us by legislative enactment. The State as a sovereign, is the parens patriae."

Chancelor Kent says: "In this country, the legislature or government of the State, as parens patriae, has the right to enforce all charities of a public nature, by virtue of its general superintending authority over the public interests, where no other person is entrusted with it." (4 Kent Com., 508, note.)

The Supreme Court of the United States in Mormon Church vs. United States, supra, after approving also the last quotations, said:

This prerogative of parens patriae is inherent in the supreme power of every State, whether that power is lodged in a royal person or in the legislature, and has no affinity to those arbitrary powers which are sometimes exerted by irresponsible monarch to the great detriment of the people and the destruction of their liberties. On the contrary, it is a most beneficent function, and often necessary to be exercised in the interest of humanity, and for the prevention of injury to those who cannot protect themselves."

The court in the same case, after quoting from Sohier vs. Mass. General Hospital (3 Cush., 483, 497), wherein the latter court held that it is deemed indispensible that there should be a power in the legislature to authorize the sale of the estates of infants, idiots, insane persons, and persons not known, or not in being, who cannot act for themselves, said:

"These remarks in reference to infants, insane persons and persons not known, or not in being, apply to the beneficiaries of charities, who are often incapable of vindicating their rights, and justly look for protection to the sovereign authority, acting as parens patriae. They show that this beneficent function has not ceased to exist under the change of government from a monarchy to a republic; but that it now resides in the legislative department, ready to be called into exercise whenever required for the purposes of justice and right, and is as clearly capable of being exercised in cases of charities as in any other cases whatever."
In People vs. Cogswell (113 Cal. 129, 130), it was urged that the plaintiff was not the real party in interest; that the Attorney-General had no power to institute the action; and that there must be an allegation and proof of a distinct right of the people as a whole, as distinguished from the rights of individuals, before an action could be brought by the Attorney-General in the name of the people. The court, in overruling these contentions, held that it was not only the right but the duty of the Attorney-General to prosecute the action, which related to charities, and approved the following quotation from Attorney-General vs. Compton (1 Young & C. C., 417):

"Where property affected by a trust for public purposes is in the hands of those who hold it devoted to that trust, it is the privilege of the public that the crown should be entitled to intervene by its officers for the purpose of asserting, on behalf on the public generally, the public interest and the public right, which, probably, no individual could be found effectually to assert, even if the interest were such as to allow it." (2 Kent's Commentaries, 10th ed., 359; Lewin on Trusts, sec. 665; 1 Daniell's Chancery Practice, sec. 13; Perry on Trusts, sec. 732.)

It is further urged, as above indicated, that "the only persons who could claim to be damages by this payment to the Monte, if it was unlawful, are the donor or the cestuis que trustent, and this Government is neither. Consequently, the plaintiff is not the proper party to bring the action." The earthquake fund was the result or the accumulation of a great number of small contributions. The names of the contributors do not appear in the record. Their whereabouts are unknown. They parted with the title to their respective contributions. The beneficiaries, consisting of the original sufferers and their heirs, could have been ascertained. They are quite numerous also. And no doubt a large number of the original sufferers have died, leaving various heirs. It would be impracticable for them to institute an action or actions either individually or collectively to recover the $80,000. The only course that can be satisfactorily pursued is for the Government to against assume control of the fund and devote it to the object for which it was originally destined.

The impracticability of pursuing a different course, however, is not the true ground upon which the right of the Government to maintain the action rests. The true ground is that the money being given to a charity became, in a measure, public property, only applicable, it is true, to the specific purposes to which it was intended to be devoted, but within those limits consecrated to the public use, and became part of the public resources for promoting the happiness and welfare of the Philippine Government. (Mormon Church vs. U. S., supra.) To deny the Government's right to maintain this action would be contrary to sound public policy, as tending to discourage the prompt exercise of similar acts of humanity and Christian benevolences in like instances in the future. (Gov. of the Philippine Islands vs. Monte de Piedad; G.R. No. 9959, December 13, 1916)