Supreme Court of the Philippines

SC: Int’l organizations immunity only covers acts done in official capacity

Jairo Bolledo

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SC: Int’l organizations immunity only covers acts done in official capacity

HIGH COURT. File photo of the Supreme Court in Padre Faura, Manila, taken on December 5, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

International organizations enjoy immunity to protect their affairs from political pressure or control by their host country

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that the immunity granted to officials and staff of international organizations applies only to acts done in their official capacity.

This was the SC’s ruling in the case involving the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In a decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda, dated April 16, the High Court affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for damages filed by a certain Matthew Westfall against ADB officials Maria Carmela Locsin, and others.

In the ruling, the SC said the acts in question, committed by the ADB officials, were done in an official capacity, so they were covered by functional immunity.

The High Court explained that international organizations enjoy almost absolute immunity. The immunity ensures that international organizations’ affairs will be protected from political pressure or control by their host country. It also prevents local courts from exercising jurisdiction over them.

Courts should also assess the application of immunity on a case-to-case basis, the SC added.

The case started when Westfall applied for the position of technical advisor in the ADB, but was not selected. He later claimed that the statements made in the panel notes and interview report by Locsin and her companions, who are members of the ADB screening committee, were allegedly defamatory and damaging to his professional reputation.

Westfall later filed a complaint for damages with the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC). The lower court dismissed Westfall’s complaint on the ground of functional immunity. The decision was later affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA), and the case reached the High Court.

In a resolution dated April 27, 2022, the SC noted that before applying immunity, tribunals must first conduct a factual inquiry to determine if the acts in question were done in the performance of official duties. Both the RTC and the CA did not thoroughly do this inquiry, the SC said, so it remanded or returned the case back to the RTC for further proceedings.

Later, Locsin and her companions filed a motion, arguing that there was no need to return the case to the lower court. The SC partially granted the motion and resolved the issue by itself. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.