G.R. No. 124293 January 31, 2005
J.G. SUMMIT HOLDINGS, INC., petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS; COMMITTEE ON PRIVATIZATION, its Chairman and Members; ASSET PRIVATIZATION TRUST; and PHILYARDS HOLDINGS, INC., respondents.
“x x x.
On the landholding issue, J.G. Summit submits that since PHILSECO is a landholding company, KAWASAKI could exercise its right of first refusal only up to 40% of the shares of PHILSECO due to the constitutional prohibition on landholding by corporations with more than 40% foreign-owned equity. It further argues that since KAWASAKI already held at least 40% equity in PHILSECO, the right of first refusal was inutile and as such, could not subsequently be converted into the right to top. 37 Petitioner also asserts that, at present, PHILSECO continues to violate the constitutional provision on landholdings as its shares are more than 40% foreign-owned.38 PHILYARDS admits that it may have previously held land but had already divested such landholdings.39 It contends, however, that even if PHILSECO owned land, this would not affect the right of first refusal but only the exercise thereof. If the land is retained, the right of first refusal, being a property right, could be assigned to a qualified party. In the alternative, the land could be divested before the exercise of the right of first refusal. In the case at bar, respondents assert that since the right of first refusal was validly converted into a right to top, which was exercised not by KAWASAKI, but by PHILYARDS which is a Filipino corporation (i.e., 60% of its shares are owned by Filipinos), then there is no violation of the Constitution.40 At first, it would seem that questions of fact beyond cognizance by this Court were involved in the issue. However, the records show that PHILYARDS admits it had owned land up until the time of the bidding.41 Hence, the only issue is whether KAWASAKI had a valid right of first refusal over PHILSECO shares under the JVA considering that PHILSECO owned land until the time of the bidding and KAWASAKI already held 40% of PHILSECO’s equity.
We uphold the validity of the mutual rights of first refusal under the JVA between KAWASAKI and NIDC. First of all, the right of first refusal is a property right of PHILSECO shareholders, KAWASAKI and NIDC, under the terms of their JVA. This right allows them to purchase the shares of their co-shareholder before they are offered to a third party. The agreement of co-shareholders to mutually grant this right to each other, by itself, does not constitute a violation of the provisions of the Constitution limiting land ownership to Filipinos and Filipino corporations. As PHILYARDS correctly puts it, if PHILSECO still owns land, the right of first refusal can be validly assigned to a qualified Filipino entity in order to maintain the 60%-40% ratio. This transfer, by itself, does not amount to a violation of the Anti-Dummy Laws, absent proof of any fraudulent intent. The transfer could be made either to a nominee or such other party which the holder of the right of first refusal feels it can comfortably do business with. Alternatively, PHILSECO may divest of its landholdings, in which case KAWASAKI, in exercising its right of first refusal, can exceed 40% of PHILSECO’s equity. In fact, it can even be said that if the foreign shareholdings of a landholding corporation exceeds 40%, it is not the foreign stockholders’ ownership of the shares which is adversely affected but the capacity of the corporation to own land – that is, the corporation becomes disqualified to own land. This finds support under the basic corporate law principle that the corporation and its stockholders are separate juridical entities. In this vein, the right of first refusal over shares pertains to the shareholders whereas the capacity to own land pertains to the corporation. Hence, the fact that PHILSECO owns land cannot deprive stockholders of their right of first refusal. No law disqualifies a person from purchasing shares in a landholding corporation even if the latter will exceed the allowed foreign equity, what the law disqualifies is the corporation from owning land. This is the clear import of the following provisions in the Constitution:
Section 2. All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens. Such agreements may be for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and under such terms and conditions as may be provided by law. In cases of water rights for irrigation, water supply, fisheries, or industrial uses other than the development of water power, beneficial use may be the measure and limit of the grant.
xxx xxx xxx
Section 7. Save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain.42(emphases supplied)
The petitioner further argues that "an option to buy land is void in itself (Philippine Banking Corporation v. Lui She, 21 SCRA 52 ). The right of first refusal granted to KAWASAKI, a Japanese corporation, is similarly void. Hence, the right to top, sourced from the right of first refusal, is also void."43 Contrary to the contention of petitioner, the case of Lui She did not that say "an option to buy land is void in itself," for we ruled as follows:
x x x To be sure, a lease to an alien for a reasonable period is valid. So is an option giving an alien the right to buy real property on condition that he is granted Philippine citizenship. As this Court said in Krivenko vs. Register of Deeds:
[A]liens are not completely excluded by the Constitution from the use of lands for residential purposes. Since their residence in the Philippines is temporary, they may be granted temporary rights such as a lease contract which is not forbidden by the Constitution. Should they desire to remain here forever and share our fortunes and misfortunes, Filipino citizenship is not impossible to acquire.
But if an alien is given not only a lease of, but also an option to buy, a piece of land, by virtue of which the Filipino owner cannot sell or otherwise dispose of his property, this to last for 50 years, then it becomes clear that the arrangement is a virtual transfer of ownership whereby the owner divests himself in stages not only of the right to enjoy the land (jus possidendi, jus utendi, jus fruendi and jus abutendi) but also of the right to dispose of it (jus disponendi) — rights the sum total of which make up ownership. It is just as if today the possession is transferred, tomorrow, the use, the next day, the disposition, and so on, until ultimately all the rights of which ownership is made up are consolidated in an alien. And yet this is just exactly what the parties in this case did within this pace of one year, with the result that Justina Santos'[s] ownership of her property was reduced to a hollow concept. If this can be done, then the Constitutional ban against alien landholding in the Philippines, as announced in Krivenko vs. Register of Deeds, is indeed in grave peril.44 (emphases supplied; Citations omitted)
In Lui She, the option to buy was invalidated because it amounted to a virtual transfer of ownership as the owner could not sell or dispose of his properties. The contract in Lui She prohibited the owner of the land from selling, donating, mortgaging, or encumbering the property during the 50-year period of the option to buy. This is not so in the case at bar where the mutual right of first refusal in favor of NIDC and KAWASAKI does not amount to a virtual transfer of land to a non-Filipino. In fact, the case at bar involves a right of first refusal over shares of stock while the Lui She case involves an option to buy the land itself. As discussed earlier, there is a distinction between the shareholder’s ownership of shares and the corporation’s ownership of land arising from the separate juridical personalities of the corporation and its shareholders.
We note that in its Motion for Reconsideration, J.G. Summit alleges that PHILSECO continues to violate the Constitution as its foreign equity is above 40% and yet owns long-term leasehold rights which are real rights.45It cites Article 415 of the Civil Code which includes in the definition of immovable property, "contracts for public works, and servitudes and other real rights over immovable property."46 Any existing landholding, however, is denied by PHILYARDS citing its recent financial statements.47 First, these are questions of fact, the veracity of which would require introduction of evidence. The Court needs to validate these factual allegations based on competent and reliable evidence. As such, the Court cannot resolve the questions they pose. X x x.
X x x.
As correctly observed by the public respondents, the prohibition in the Constitution applies only to ownership of land.48 It does not extend to immovable or real property as defined under Article 415 of the Civil Code. Otherwise, we would have a strange situation where the ownership of immovable property such as trees, plants and growing fruit attached to the land49 would be limited to Filipinos and Filipino corporations only.
X x x.”