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Friday, May 31, 2024

Immunity of ADB officials limited to official acts – SC

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The Supreme Court has ruled that the immunity granted to officials and personnel of international organizations, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB), extends only to acts done in their official capacities.

In an en banc decision penned by Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda, the SC affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for damages filed by Matthew Westfall against ADB officials Maria Carmela Locsin and several others.

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 et al., who were members of the ADB Screening Committee, were defamatory and damaging to his professional reputation.

This prompted him to file a complaint for damages before the regional trial court (RTC) of Makati City.

The lower court dismissed his complaint on the ground that Locsin et al. enjoyed functional immunity since the acts Westfall complained of were done in their official capacities. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.

The Supreme Court, in a Resolution dated April 27, 2022, held that before applying immunity, courts must first conduct a factual inquiry to determine if the subject act was done in the performance of official duties.

As this was not done thoroughly by the CA and the RTC, the SC remanded the case to the RTC for further proceedings.

This prompted Locsin et al. to file the present motion for partial reconsideration ad cautelam (for more abundant caution), arguing there is no need to remand the case to the RTC.

In the interest of judicial economy, the high court partially granted their motion and opted to resolve the factual issue.

In resolving the case, the SC held that the complaint for damages against them must be dismissed on ground that the subject acts were done in their official capacities and, thus, covered by the functional immunity granted to them as ADB officials.

The high tribunal expounded on the different kinds of immunities, specifically the scope of those enjoyed by international organizations and their personnel.

International organizations enjoy almost absolute, if not absolute, immunity. This grant of immunity protects their affairs from political pressure or control by the host country and prevents local courts from exercising jurisdiction over them.

On the other hand, personnel of international organizations are entitled to immunity only for acts performed in their official capacity.

“They enjoy functional immunity or only that necessary to exercise the organization’s functions and fulfill its purposes. Immunity does not apply to their private acts, crimes, and those acts contrary to law,” the SC said, in a statement released by the Public Information Office.

The high tribunal clarified that courts should assess the application of immunity on a case-to-case basis.

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