Immunity from Suit of an International Organization and its Officers

There are two conflicting concepts of sovereign immunity, according to the Philippines Supreme Court: (a) Classical or absolute theory — a sovereign cannot, without its consent, be made a respondent in the courts of another sovereign; and (b) Restrictive theory — the immunity of the sovereign is recognized only with regard to public acts or acts jure imperii of a state, but not with regard to private acts or acts jure gestionis.

What is the Constitutional basis for the grant of immunity to foreign governments/embassies, the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations in the Philippines?

The Constitution provides (Art. II, Sec. 2) that the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law. Rules of international law form part of Philippine law under the doctrine of incorporation. Also, among the oldest and most fundamental maxims of international law is pacta sunt servanda, which requires the parties to a treaty to keep their agreement therein in good faith.

What is the treaty that governs the sovereign immunity of diplomats and other state agents?

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which was ratified on 18 April 1961, is a codification of centuries-old customary law affording protection to foreign diplomats. The Convention lists the classes of heads of diplomatic missions to include (a) ambassadors or nuncios accredited to the heads of state, (b) envoys, ministers or internuncios accredited to the heads of states; and (c) charges d’ affairs accredited to the ministers of foreign affairs. Comprising the “staff of the (diplomatic) mission” are the diplomatic staff, the administrative staff and the technical and service staff.

Does the immunity apply even if a person is not the head of the diplomatic mission or part of the staff?

Immunity can still attach under the generally-accepted principle in international law that a State cannot be sued in the courts of a foreign state. The immunity attaches not just to 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.

How does the Philippine government treat the Holy See or Vatican?

The Philippines has accorded the Holy See the status of a foreign sovereign. The Holy See, through its Ambassador, the Papal Nuncio, has had diplomatic representations with the Philippine government since 1957. This appears to be the universal practice in international relations.

What is the applicable treaty for immunities to the United Nations (UN) and its agencies?

The Philippines is a member of the UN and a party to the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations. It adheres to the doctrine of immunity granted to the UN and its specialized agencies. These treaties have the force and effect of law here in the Philippines.

What are examples of “specialized agencies” of the UN?

Among the UN specialized agencies, the immunity of which were upheld by the Philippine Supreme Court: World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Revolving Fund for Natural Resources Exploration (UNRFNRE).

What are examples of international organizations, other than the UN, that have been accorded immunity in the Philippines?

1. Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), which was established by Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, for the purpose of contributing to the promotion of the fisheries development in Southeast Asia.

2. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which enjoys immunities accorded to international organizations. Presidential Decree No. 1620 provides: “Art. 3. Immunity from Legal Process. The Institute shall enjoy immunity from any penal, civil and administrative proceedings, except insofar as that immunity has been expressly waived by the Director-General of the Institute or his authorized representatives.”

3. International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), which was accredited by the Philippine Government to operate the refugee processing center in Morong, Bataan. It’s a non-profit agency involved in international humanitarian and voluntary work.

4. Asian Development Bank (ADB). Being an international organization that has been extended diplomatic status, the ADB is independent of the municipal law. The Supreme Court, while cognizant of this immunity, also found that the immunity applies only to acts performed in an official capacity. Section 45 (a) of the Agreement Between the Asian Development Bank and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines Regarding the Headquarters of the Asian Development Bank provides:

Officers and staff of the Bank, including for the purpose of this Article experts and consultants performing missions for the Bank, shall enjoy the following privileges and immunities:

(a) Immunity from legal process with respect to acts performed by them in their official capacity except when the Bank waives the immunity.

The imputation of theft is ultra vires and cannot be part of official functions. It cannot possibly be covered by the immunity agreement because our laws do not allow the commission of a crime, such as defamation, in the name of official duty.

What is the rationale for the grant of immunity to international organizations?

The objective for the grant of immunity from local jurisdiction is to avoid the danger of partiality and interference by the host country in the internal workings of these international organizations or agencies. It is intended to shield the organization from political pressure or control by the host country to the prejudice of member States of the organization, and to ensure the unhampered performance of their functions.

What is the remedy of a Filipino citizen in cases where an act is covered by the doctrine of sovereign or diplomatic immunity?

The remedy is for an aggrieved person to ask the Philippine government to espouse his cause through diplomatic channels.

[Sources: Minucher vs. CA, G.R. No. 142396, 11 February 2003; The Holy See vs. Rosario, Jr., G.R. No. 101949, 1 December 1994; Callado vs. IRRI, G.R. No. 106483, 22 May 1995; ICIC vs. Calleja, G.R. No. 85750, 28 September 1990; DFA vs. NLRC, G.R. No. 113191, 18 September 1996; Liang vs. People, G.R. No. 125865, 28 January 2000]

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One thought on “Immunity from Suit of an International Organization and its Officers

  1. Jessica

    Im have a live in partner for 1 year and we had a baby boy now hes 2 yrs old , hes still supporting my son but were now separated because of third party were not married, is there any case i can file for him?


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