President Rodrigo on Sept. 22, 2021 claimed Sen. Richard Gordon could not be a senator and chairman of the Philippine Red Cross at the same time. The Supreme Court however had settled the matter of Gordon’s two positions way back in 2009.

President Rodrigo Duterte records a message after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases core members at the Arcadia Active Lifestyle Center in Matina, Davao City on Sept. 22, 2021. SIMEON CELI/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Sen. Richard Gordon has become the frequent target of President Rodrigo Duterte’s late-night tirades since the former’s blue ribbon committee began investigating anomalies in the government’s procurement of medical supplies following last year’s Covid-19 outbreak. On Sept. 22, 2021, Duterte called Gordon a “double agent” and claimed he was barred from becoming both senator and chairman of the Philippine Red Cross as the latter was a private entity engaging in transactions with the government.

“If there is money given by the government to the Red Cross, any assistance, you sign it as the chairman at ikaw rin ang mag-imbestiga. Iyan ang problema sa iyo, e double agent ka. You are not supposed […] to me, under the law, you must give either – either Red Cross, kung gusto mong maging senador pa; o senador ka, hindi ka Red Cross,” Duterte said in his “Talk to the People” address on Sept. 22, 2021.

Bawal ‘yan actually. Bawal. Even government lawyers, Cabinet members cannot be an officer of a corporation or a company or even an owner of a business entity that deals with government. Bawal talaga ‘yan. Bitawan mo na ‘yan kasi we will – I will insist that you give up one because you cannot be both,” a fuming Duterte added.

The Supreme Court, however, has long ruled on the legality of Gordon’s chairmanship of the Red Cross. In a July 15, 2009 decision written by Justice Antonio Carpio, the high tribunal ruled that the chairmanship of the Red Cross was not a government office and therefore not covered by the constitutional ban on lawmakers occupying any other government post. 

The case stemmed from a petition filed by Dante Liban, Reynaldo Bernardo and Salvador Viari of the Quezon City Red Cross chapter. They claimed Gordon forfeited his Senate seat under Section 13, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution when he accepted the chairmanship of the Board of Governors of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC).

Less than two years later, Gordon questioned the portion of the 2009 ruling that voided sections of the Red Cross charter making it a private entity or corporation, and requiring it to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

January 18, 2011 resolution penned by Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro (named chief justice by Duterte in 2018) clarified the status of the Red Cross and declared it to be sui generis or in a class of its own. While it modified the 2009 ruling, the court reiterated that Gordon’s two positions as senator and Red Cross chairman were legal.

The Red Cross, the court ruled, was not a government corporation but functioned as an auxiliary of the government in humanitarian activities as mandated by international law, specifically the Geneva Convention. Neither was it entirely a private corporation, even if it was under private control. Thus, there was no more need to register with the SEC.

“It bears emphasizing that the PNRC has responded to almost all national disasters since 1947, and is widely known to provide a substantial portion of the country’s blood requirements.  Its humanitarian work is unparalleled,” the 2011 resolution stated.

Prior to the resolution, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed Republic Act 10072, the new Red Cross charter, on April 20, 2010. It changed the name of the organization to the “Philippine Red Cross” and declared it to be “the voluntary, independent and autonomous nongovernmental society auxiliary to the authorities of the Republic of the Philippines in the humanitarian field […].” Felipe F. Salvosa II

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