Local water districts as corporations

The Constitution recognizes two classes of corporations. The first refers to private corporations created under a general law. The second refers to government-owned or controlled corporations created by special charters. Section 16, Article XII of the Constitution provides:

Sec. 16. The Congress shall not, except by general law, provide for the formation, organization, or regulation of private corporations. Government-owned or controlled corporations may be created or established by special charters in the interest of the common good and subject to the test of economic viability.

The Constitution emphatically prohibits the creation of private corporations except by a general law applicable to all citizens. The purpose of this constitutional provision is to ban private corporations created by special charters, which historically gave certain individuals, families or groups special privileges denied to other citizens.

In short, 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, that 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.

Obviously, local water districts (LWDs) are NOT private corporations because they are not created under the Corporation Code. LWDs are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Section 14 of the Corporation Code states that [A]ll corporations organized under this code shall file with the Securities and Exchange Commission articles of incorporation x x x. LWDs have no articles of incorporation, no incorporators and no stockholders or members. There are no stockholders or members to elect the board directors of LWDs as in the case of all corporations registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The local mayor or the provincial governor appoints the directors of LWDs for a fixed term of office.

The Supreme Court has ruled that LWDs are NOT created under the Corporation Code, thus: From the foregoing pronouncement, it is clear that what has been excluded from the coverage of the CSC are those corporations created pursuant to the Corporation Code. Significantly, petitioners are not created under the said code, but on the contrary, they were created pursuant to a special law and are governed primarily by its provision.

LWDs exist by virtue of PD 198, which constitutes their special charter. Since under the Constitution only government-owned or controlled corporations may have special charters, LWDs can validly exist only if they are government-owned or controlled. To claim that LWDs are private corporations with a special charter is to admit that their existence is constitutionally infirm.

Unlike private corporations, which derive their legal existence and power from the Corporation Code, LWDs derive their legal existence and power from PD 198. Sections 6 and 25 of PD 198 provide:

Section 6. Formation of District. This Act is the source of authorization and power to form and maintain a district. For purposes of this Act, a district shall be considered as a quasi-public corporation performing public service and supplying public wants. As such, a district shall exercise the powers, rights and privileges given to private corporations under existing laws, in addition to the powers granted in, and subject to such restrictions imposed, under this Act.

Clearly, LWDs exist as corporations only by virtue of PD 198, which expressly confers on LWDs corporate powers. Section 6 of PD 198 provides that LWDs shall exercise the powers, rights and privileges given to private corporations under existing laws. Without PD 198, LWDs would have no corporate powers. Thus, PD 198 constitutes the special enabling charter of LWDs. The ineluctable conclusion is that LWDs are government-owned and controlled corporations with a special charter.

The phrase government-owned and controlled corporations with original charters means GOCCs created under special laws and not under the general incorporation law. There is no difference between the term original charters and special charters. The Court clarified this in National Service Corporation v. NLRC by citing the deliberations in the Constitutional Commission, as follows:

Petitioner further contends that a law must create directly and explicitly a GOCC in order that it may have an original charter. In short, petitioner argues that one special law cannot serve as enabling law for several GOCCs but only for one GOCC. Section 16, Article XII of the Constitution mandates that Congress shall not, except by general law, provide for the creation of private corporations. Thus, the Constitution prohibits one special law to create one private corporation, requiring instead a general law to create private corporations. In contrast, the same Section 16 states that Government-owned or controlled corporations may be created or established by special charters. Thus, the Constitution permits Congress to create a GOCC with a special charter. There is, however, no prohibition on Congress to create several GOCCs of the same class under one special enabling charter.

The rationale behind the prohibition on private corporations having special charters does not apply to GOCCs. There is no danger of creating special privileges to certain individuals, families or groups if there is one special law creating each GOCC. Certainly, such danger will not exist whether one special law creates one GOCC, or one special enabling law creates several GOCCs. Thus, Congress may create GOCCs either by special charters specific to each GOCC, or by one special enabling charter applicable to a class of GOCCs, like PD 198 which applies only to LWDs.
Petitioner also contends that LWDs are private corporations because Section 6 of PD 198 declares that LWDs shall be considered quasi-public in nature. Petitioners rationale is that only private corporations may be deemed quasi-public and not public corporations. Put differently, petitioner rationalizes that a public corporation cannot be deemed quasi-public because such corporation is already public. Petitioner concludes that the term quasi-public can only apply to private corporations. Petitioners argument is inconsequential.

Petitioner forgets that the constitutional criterion on the exercise of COA's audit jurisdiction depends on the government's ownership or control of a corporation. The nature of the corporation, whether it is private, quasi-public, or public is immaterial.

The Constitution vests in the COA audit jurisdiction over government-owned and controlled corporations with original charters, as well as government-owned or controlled corporations without original charters. GOCCs with original charters are subject to COA pre-audit, while GOCCs without original charters are subject to COA post-audit. GOCCs without original charters refer to corporations created under the Corporation Code but are owned or controlled by the government. The nature or purpose of the corporation is not material in determining COAs audit jurisdiction. Neither is the manner of creation of a corporation, whether under a general or special law.

The determining factor of COAs audit jurisdiction is government ownership or control of the corporation. In Philippine Veterans Bank Employees Union-NUBE v. Philippine Veterans Bank, the Court even ruled that the criterion of ownership and control is more important than the issue of original charter, thus:

This point is important because the Constitution provides in its Article IX-B, Section 2(1) that the Civil Service embraces all branches, subdivisions, instrumentalities, and agencies of the Government, including government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters. As the Bank is not owned or controlled by the Government although it does have an original charter in the form of R.A. No. 3518, it clearly does not fall under the Civil Service and should be regarded as an ordinary commercial corporation. Section 28 of the said law so provides. The consequence is that the relations of the Bank with its employees should be governed by the labor laws, under which in fact they have already been paid some of their claims.

Certainly, the government owns and controls LWDs. The government organizes LWDs in accordance with a specific law, PD 198. There is no private party involved as co-owner in the creation of an LWD. Just prior to the creation of LWDs, the national or local government owns and controls all their assets. The government controls LWDs because under PD 198 the municipal or city mayor, or the provincial governor, appoints all the board directors of an LWD for a fixed term of six years. The board directors of LWDs are not co-owners of the LWDs.LWDs have no private stockholders or members. The board directors and other personnel of LWDs are government employees subject to civil service laws and anti-graft laws.

While Section 8 of PD 198 states that [N]o public official shall serve as director of an LWD, it only means that the appointees to the board of directors of LWDs shall come from the private sector. Once such private sector representatives assume office as directors, they become public officials governed by the civil service law and anti-graft laws. Otherwise, Section 8 of PD 198 would contravene Section 2(1), Article IX-B of the Constitution declaring that the civil service includes government-owned or controlled corporations with original charters.

If LWDs are neither GOCCs with original charters nor GOCCs without original charters, then they would fall under the term agencies or instrumentalities of the government and thus still subject to COAs audit jurisdiction. However, the stark and undeniable fact is that the government owns LWDs. Section 45 of PD 198 recognizes government ownership of LWDs when Section 45 states that the board of directors may dissolve an LWD only on the condition that another public entity has acquired the assets of the district and has assumed all obligations and liabilities attached thereto. The implication is clear that an LWD is a public and not a private entity.

Petitioner does not allege that some entity other than the government owns or controls LWDs. Instead, petitioner advances the theory that the Water Districts owner is the District itself. Assuming for the sake of argument that an LWD is self-owned, as petitioner describes an LWD, the government in any event controls all LWDs. First, government officials appoint all LWD directors to a fixed term of office. Second, any per diem of LWD directors in excess of P50 is subject to the approval of the Local Water Utilities Administration, and directors can receive no other compensation for their services to the LWD. Third, the Local Water Utilities Administration can require LWDs to merge or consolidate their facilities or operations.This element of government control subjects LWDs to COAs audit jurisdiction.

Petitioner argues that upon the enactment of PD 198, LWDs became private entities through the transfer of ownership of water facilities from local government units to their respective water districts as mandated by PD 198. Petitioner is grasping at straws. Privatization involves the transfer of government assets to a private entity. Petitioner concedes that the owner of the assets transferred under Section 6 (c) of PD 198 is no other than the LWD itself. The transfer of assets mandated by PD 198 is a transfer of the water systems facilities managed, operated by or under the control of such city, municipality or province to such (water) district. In short, the transfer is from one government entity to another government entity. PD 198 is bereft of any indication that the transfer is to privatize the operation and control of water systems. (G.R. No. 147402. January 14, 2004)