FACTS:

Petitioner Sanders was the special services director of the U.S. Naval Station (NAVSTA).  Petitioner Moreau was the commanding officer of the Subic Naval Base. Respondent Rossi is an American citizen with permanent residence in the Philippines,  as so was private respondent Wyer, who died two years ago. They were both employed as gameroom attendants in the special services department of the NAVSTA.

Respondents were advised that their employment had been converted from permanent full-time to permanent part-time. Their reaction was to protest this conversion and to institute grievance proceedings conformably to the pertinent rules and regulations of the U.S. Department of Defense. The result was a recommendation from the hearing officer who conducted the proceedings for the reinstatement of the private respondents to permanent full-time status plus backwages.

In a letter addressed to petitioner Moreau, Sanders disagreed with the hearing officer’s report and asked for the rejection of the recommendation. The letter contained the statements that: a) “Mr. Rossi tends to alienate most co-workers and supervisors;” b) “Messrs. Rossi and Wyers have proven, according to their immediate supervisors, to be difficult employees to supervise;” and c) “even though the grievants were under oath not to discuss the case with anyone, they placed the records in public places where others not involved in the case could hear.”

Before the start of the grievance hearings, a letter coming from Moreau as the commanding general of the U.S. Naval Station in Subic Bay was sent to the Chief of Naval Personnel explaining the change of the private respondent’s employment status and requesting concurrence therewith. The letter did not carry his signature but was signed by W.B. Moore, Jr. “by direction,” presumably of Moreau.

On the basis of these antecedent facts, the private respondent filed in the Court of First Instance of Olongapo City a complaint for damages against the petitioners.

The plaintiffs claimed that the letters contained libelous imputations that had exposed them to ridicule and caused them mental anguish and that the prejudgment of the grievance proceedings was an invasion of their personal and proprietary rights.

Respondents made it clear that the petitioners were being sued in their private or personal capacity. However, the petitioners argued that the acts complained of were performed by them in the discharge of their official duties and the court had no jurisdiction over them under the doctrine of state immunity.

ISSUE:

1.      Whether or not the petitioners were performing their official duties when they did the acts for which the respondents have sued them for damages.

2.      Whether or not the case qualifies as a suit against the State

RULING:

1.      Yes. The acts for which the petitioners are being called to account were performed by them in the discharge of their official duties. Sanders, as director of the special services department of NAVSTA, had supervision over its personnel, including the private respondents, and had a hand in their employment, work assignments, discipline, dismissal and other related matters. It is not disputed that the letter he had written was in fact a reply to a request from his superior, the other petitioner, for more information regarding the case of the private respondents. Moreover, even in the absence of such request, he still was within his rights in reacting to the hearing officer’s criticism — in effect a direct attack against him — that Special Services was practicing “an autocratic form of supervision.”

As for Moreau, what he is claimed to have done was write the Chief of Naval Personnel for concurrence with the conversion of the private respondents’ type of employment even before the grievance proceedings had even commenced. Disregarding for the nonce the question of its timeliness, this act is clearly official in nature, performed by Moreau as the immediate superior of Sanders and directly answerable to Naval Personnel in matters involving the special services department of NAVSTA. In fact, the letter dealt with the financial and budgetary problems of the department and contained recommendations for their solution, including the re-designation of the private respondents. There was nothing personal or private about it.

The petitioners were being sued as officers of the United States government. As they have acted on behalf of that government, and within the scope of their authority, it is that government, and not the petitioners personally, that is responsible for their acts. Assuming that the trial can proceed and it is proved that the claimants have a right to the payment of damages, such award will have to be satisfied not by the petitioners in their personal capacities but by the United States government as their principal. This will require that government to perform an affirmative act to satisfy the judgment, viz., the appropriation of the necessary amount to cover the damages awarded, thus making the action a suit against that government without its consent.

2.      No. The government of the United States has not given its consent to be sued for the official acts of the petitioners, who cannot satisfy any judgment that may be rendered against them. As it is the American government itself that will have to perform the affirmative act of appropriating the amount that may be adjudged for the private respondents, the complaint must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The recommendations by the Commission does not in any way mean that liability automatically attaches to the State. The Commission was simply a fact-finding body; its findings shall serve only as cause of action for litigation; it does not bind the State immediately. President Aquino’s speeches are likewise not binding on the State; they are not tantamount to a waiver by the State

The private respondents must, if they are still so minded, pursue their claim against the petitioners in accordance with the laws of the United States, of which they are all citizens and under whose jurisdiction the alleged offenses were committed. Even assuming that our own laws are applicable, the United States government has not decided to give its consent to be sued in our courts, which therefore has not acquired the competence to act on the said claim.

NB: The practical justification for the doctrine, as Holmes put it, is that “there can be no legal right against the authority which makes the law on which the right depends.” In the case of foreign states, the rule is derived from the principle of the sovereign equality of states which wisely admonishes that par in parem non habet imperium and that a contrary attitude would “unduly vex the peace of nations.” Our adherence to this precept is formally expressed in Article II, Section 2, of our Constitution, where we reiterate from our previous charters that the Philippines “adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land.” 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s