US vs. Guinto

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HON. ELIODORO B. GUINTO, Presiding Judge, Branch LVII, Regional Trial Court, Angeles City, ROBERTO T. VALENCIA, EMERENCIANA C. TANGLAO, AND PABLO C. DEL PILAR, Respondents.

G.R. NO. 76607
FEBRUARY 26, 1990


In the first case, 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 barber services in the base.

In the second case, private respondents filed a complaint for damages against private petitioners for his dismissal as cook in the U.S. Air Force Recreation Center at the John Hay Air Station.

In the third case, private respondent, who was employed as a barracks boy in a U.S. Base, was arrested following a buy-bust operation conducted by the individual petitioners, officers of the U.S. Air Force and special agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigators. He then filed a complaint for damages against the individual petitioners claiming that it was because of their acts that he was removed.

In the fourth case, a complaint for damages was filed by the private respondents against the private petitioners, for injuries allegedly sustained by the plaintiffs as a result of the acts of the defendants. According to the plaintiffs, the defendants beat them up, handcuffed them and unleashed dogs on them which bit them in several parts of their bodies and caused extensive injuries to them.

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.


WON the Doctrine of State Immunity is not applicable thereby making the State liable.


NO. While suable, the petitioners are nevertheless not liable. It is obvious that the claim for damages cannot be allowed on the strength of the evidence, which have been carefully examined.

The traditional rule of immunity exempts a State from being sued in the courts of another State without its consent or waiver. This rule is a necessary consequence of the principles of independence and equality of States. However, the rules of International Law are not petrified; they are constantly developing and evolving. In addition, because the activities of states have multiplied, it has been necessary to distinguish them – between sovereign and governmental acts (jure imperii) and private, commercial and proprietary acts (jure gestionis). The result is that State immunity now extends only to acts jure imperii. The restrictive application of State immunity is now the rule in the United States, the United Kingdom and other states in Western Europe.

The restrictive application of State immunity is proper only when the proceedings arise out of commercial transactions of the foreign sovereign, its commercial activities or economic affairs. Stated differently, a State may be said to have descended to the level of an individual and can thus be deemed to have tacitly given its consent to be sued only when it enters into business contracts. It does not apply where the contract relates to the exercise of its sovereign functions. In this case, the projects are an integral part of the naval base, which is devoted to the defense of both the United States and the Philippines, indisputably a function of the government of the highest order; they are not utilized for nor dedicated to commercial or business purposes.

There is no question that the United States of America, like any other state, will be deemed to have impliedly waived its non-suability if it has entered into a contract in its proprietary or private capacity, as in the cases at bar. It is only when the contract involves its sovereign or governmental capacity that no such waiver may be implied. A State may be said to have descended to the level of an individual and can thus be deemed to have tacitly given its consent to be sued only when it enters into business contracts.

The private respondents invokes Article 2180 of the Civil Code, which holds the government liable if it acts through a special agent. The argument, it would seem, is premised on the ground that since the officers are designated “special agents,” the United States government should be liable for their torts.

There seems to be a failure to distinguish between suability and liability and a misconception that the two terms are synonymous. Suability depends on the consent of the state to be sued, liability on the applicable law and the established facts. The circumstance that a state is suable does not necessarily mean that it is liable; on the other hand, it can never be held liable if it does not first consent to be sued. Liability is not conceded by the mere fact that the state has allowed itself to be sued. When the state does waive its sovereign immunity, it is only giving the plaintiff the chance to prove, if it can, that the defendant is liable.

The said article establishes a rule of liability, not suability. The government may be held liable under this rule only if it first allows itself to be sued through any of the accepted forms of consent. Moreover, the agent performing his regular functions is not a special agent even if he is so denominated, as in the case at bar. No less important, the said provision appears to regulate only the relations of the local state with its inhabitants and, hence, applies only to the Philippine government and not to foreign governments impleaded in our courts.

The complaints against the petitioners in the court below were aptly dismissed.

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