MINUCHER vs. COURT OF APPEALS G.R. No. 142396, February 11, 2003

Facts:

On 03 August 1988, Minucher filed Civil Case before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for damages on account of what he claimed to have been trumped-up charges of drug trafficking made by Arthur Scalzo. The Manila RTC detailed what it had found to be the facts and circumstances surrounding the case.

Then, on 14 June 1990, after almost two years since the institution of the civil case, Scalzo filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that, being a special agent of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, he was entitled to diplomatic immunity. In an order of 25 June 1990, the trial court denied the motion to dismiss.

On 27 July 1990, Scalzo filed a petition for certiorari with injunction with the SC asking that the Civil Case complaint be ordered dismissed. The case was referred to the Court of Appeals which sustaining the diplomatic immunity of Scalzo and ordering the dismissal of the complaint against him. Minucher filed a petition for review with the SC appealing the judgment of the Court of Appeals which the SC reversed the decision of the appellate court and remanded the case to the lower court for trial. RTC continued with its hearings on the case Adjudging defendant liable to plaintiff in actual and compensatory damages of P520,000.00; moral damages in the sum of P10 million; exemplary damages in the sum of P100,000.00; attorney’s fees in the sum of P200,000.00 plus costs.The trial court gave credence to the claim of Scalzo and the evidence presented by him that he was a diplomatic agent entitled to immunity as such, it ruled that he, nevertheless, should be held accountable for the acts complained of committed outside his official duties. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court and sustained the defense of Scalzo that he was sufficiently clothed with diplomatic immunity during his term of duty and thereby immune from the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the “Receiving State” pursuant to the terms of the Vienna Convention. Hence, this case.

Issue:

Whether Arthur Scalzo is indeed entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Held:

Yes, Arthur Scalzo is indeed entitled to diplomatic immunity.  Concededly, vesting a person with diplomatic immunity is a prerogative of the executive branch of the government. The Court has recognized that, in such matters, the hands of the courts are virtually tied. Amidst apprehensions of indiscriminate and incautious grant of immunity, designed to gain exemption from the jurisdiction of courts, it should behoove the Philippine government, specifically its Department of Foreign Affairs, to be most circumspect, that should particularly be no less than compelling, in its post litem motam issuances. It might be recalled that the privilege is not an immunity from the observance of the law of the territorial sovereign or from ensuing legal liability; it is, rather, an immunity from the exercise of territorial jurisdiction. But while the diplomatic immunity of Scalzo might thus remain contentious, it was sufficiently established that, indeed, he worked for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and was tasked to conduct surveillance of suspected drug activities within the country on the dates pertinent to this case. If it should be ascertained that Arthur Scalzo was acting well within his assigned functions when he committed the acts alleged in the complaint, the present controversy could then be resolved under the related doctrine of State Immunity from Suit.

The precept that a State cannot be sued in the courts of a foreign state is a long-standing rule of customary international law then closely identified with the personal immunity of a foreign sovereign from suit and, with the emergence of democratic states, made to attach not just to the person of the head of state, or his representative, but also distinctly to the state itself in its sovereign capacity. If the acts giving rise to a suit are those of a foreign government done by its foreign agent, although not necessarily a diplomatic personage, but acting in his official capacity, the complaint could be barred by the immunity of the foreign sovereign from suit without its consent. Suing a representative of a state is believed to be, in effect, suing the state itself. The proscription is not accorded for the benefit of an individual but for the State, in whose service he is, under the maxim – par in parem, non habet imperium – that all states are sovereign equals and cannot assert jurisdiction over one another.

This immunity principle, however, has its limitations. “It is a different matter where the public official is made to account in his capacity as such for acts contrary to law and injurious to the rights of the plaintiff. Inasmuch as the State authorizes only legal acts by its officers, unauthorized acts of government officials or officers are not acts of the State, and an action against the officials or officers by one whose rights have been invaded or violated by such acts, for the protection of his rights, is not a suit against the State within the rule of immunity of the State from suit. In the same tenor, it has been said that an action at law or suit in equity against a State officer or the director of a State department on the ground that, while claiming to act for the State, he violates or invades the personal and property rights of the plaintiff, under an unconstitutional act or under an assumption of authority which he does not have, is not a suit against the State within the constitutional provision that the State may not be sued without its consent. The rationale for this ruling is that the doctrine of state immunity cannot be used as an instrument for perpetrating an injustice.

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