Constitutional Law, Political Law

US v. ELIODORO B. GUINTO GR No. 76607, February 26, 1990 Doctrine of State Immunity, “the Royal Prerogative of Dishonesty”

FACTS:

These cases have been consolidated because they all involve the doctrine of state immunity. The United States of America was not impleaded in the complaints below but has moved to dismiss on the ground that they are in effect suits against it to which it has not consented. It is now contesting the denial of its motions by the respondent judges.

In G.R. No. 76607, the private respondents are suing several officers of the U.S. Air Force stationed in Clark Air Base in connection with the bidding conducted by them for contracts for barbering services in the said base.

In G.R. No. 79470, Fabian Genove filed a complaint for damages against petitioners Anthony Lamachia et al., for his dismissal as cook in the U.S. Air Force Recreation Center at the John Hay Air Station in Baguio City.

The defendants, joined by the United States of America, moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging that Lamachia, as an officer of the U.S. Air Force stationed at John Hay Air Station, was immune from suit for the acts done by him in his official capacity.

The petitioners then came to this Court seeking certiorari  and prohibition with preliminary injunction.

In G.R. No. 80018, Luis Bautista, who was employed as a barracks boy in Camp O’Donnell, an extension of Clark Air Base, was arrested following a buy-bust operation conducted by the individual petitioners, being officers of the U.S. Air Force and special agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigators (AFOSI). 

The said officers testified against him at his trial. As a result of the filing of the charge, Bautista was dismissed from his employment. He then filed a complaint for damages against the individual petitioners herein, claiming that it was because of their acts that he was removed.

In G.R. No. 80258, a complaint for damages was filed by the private respondents against the herein petitioners, for injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiffs as a result of the acts of the defendants.

In a motion to dismiss the complaint, the United States of America and the individually named defendants argued that the suit was in effect a suit against the United States, which had not given its consent to be sued. The defendants were also immune from suit under the RP-US Bases Treaty for acts done by them in the performance of their official functions.

ISSUE:

Whether the  petitioner may be sued.

RULING:

The rule that a state may not be sued without its consent, now expressed in Article XVI, Section 3, of the 1987 Constitution, is one of the generally accepted principles of international law that we have adopted as part of the law of our land under Article II, Section 2. This latter provision merely reiterates a policy earlier embodied in the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions and also intended to manifest our resolve to abide by the rules of the international community.

Even without such affirmation, we would still be bound by the generally accepted principles of international law under the doctrine of incorporation. Under this doctrine, as accepted by the majority of states, such principles are deemed incorporated in the law of every civilized state as a condition and consequence of its membership in the society of nations. Upon its admission to such society, the state is automatically obligated to comply with these principles in its relations with other states.

As applied to the local state, the doctrine of state immunity is based on the justification given by Justice Holmes that “there can be no legal right against the authority which makes the law on which the right depends.”  There are other practical reasons for the enforcement of the doctrine. In the case of the foreign state sought to be impleaded in the local jurisdiction, the added inhibition is expressed in the maxim par in parem, non habet imperium. All states are sovereign equals and cannot assert jurisdiction over one another. A contrary disposition would, in the language of a celebrated case, “unduly vex the peace of nations.”

While the doctrine appears to prohibit only suits against the state without its consent, it is also applicable to complaints filed against officials of the state for acts allegedly performed by them in the discharge of their duties. 

The rule is that if the judgment against such officials will require the state itself to perform an affirmative act to satisfy the same, such as the appropriation of the amount needed to pay the damages awarded against them, the suit must be regarded as against the state itself although it has not been formally impleaded. In such a situation, the state may move to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it has been filed without its consent.

The doctrine is sometimes derisively called “the royal prerogative of dishonesty” because of the privilege it grants the state to defeat any legitimate claim against it by simply invoking its non-suability. That is hardly fair, at least in democratic societies, for the state is not an unfeeling tyrant unmoved by the valid claims of its citizens. In fact, the doctrine is not absolute and does not say the state may not be sued under any circumstance. On the contrary, the rule says that the state may not be sued without its consent, which clearly imports that it may be sued if it consents.

The consent of the state to be sued may be manifested expressly or impliedly. Express consent may be embodied in a general law or a special law. Consent is implied when the state enters into a contract or it itself commences litigation.

It follows that for discharging their duties as agents of the United States, they cannot be directly impleaded for acts imputable to their principal, which has not given its consent to be sued.

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