ISSUE: Is the suit one against the state?
FACTS: Petitioner Philippine Agila Satellite Inc. is a duly organized corporation, whose President and Chief Executive Officer is co-petitioner Michael C.U. De Guzman. PASI was established by a consortium of private telecommunications carriers which in 1994 had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the DOTC, through its then Secretary Jesus Garcia, concerning the planned launch of a Philippine-owned satellite into outer space. The Philippine government, through the DOTC, was tasked under the MOU to secure from the International Telecommunication Union the required orbital slots and frequency assignments for the Philippine satellite. The government, together with PASI, coordinated through the International Telecommunication Union two orbital slots, designated as 161º East Longitude and 153º East Longitude, for Philippine satellites. PASI wrote then DOTC Secretary Amado S. Lagdameo, Jr., seeking for official Philippine government confirmation on the assignment of the two aforementioned Philippine orbital slots to PASI for its satellites. Secretary Lagdameo, Jr. replied in a letter confirming “the Philippine Government’s assignment of Philippine orbital slots 161E and 153E to PASI for its satellites.” PASI averred that after having secured the confirmation from the Philippine government, it proceeded with preparations for the launching, operation and management of its satellites, including the availment of loans, the increase in its capital. However, respondent Lichauco, then DOTC Undersecretary for Communications, allegedly “embarked on a crusade to malign the name of Michael de Guzman and sabotage the business of PASI.” Aggrieved by Lichauco’s actions, PASI and De Guzman instituted a civil complaint against Lichauco, by then the Acting Secretary of the DOTC. The complaint, alleging three causes of action, was for injunction, declaration of nullity of award, and damages. The third cause of action, for damages, imputed several acts to Lichauco as part of her alleged “crusade” to malign the name of plaintiff De Guzman and sabotage the business of PASI.
RATIO DECIDENDI: The hornbook rule is that a suit for acts done in the performance of official functions against an officer of the government by a private citizen that would result in a charge against or financial liability to the government must be regarded as a suit against the State itself, although the latter has not been formally impleaded. However, government immunity from suit will not shield the public official being sued if the government no longer has an interest to protect in the outcome of a suit; or if the liability of the officer is personal because it arises from a tortious act in the performance of his duties. As earlier noted, the complaint alleges three causes of action against Lichauco: one for injunction against her performing any act in relation to orbital slot 153º East Longitude; one for declaration of nullity of award, seeking to nullify the alleged award of orbital slot 153º East Longitude; and one for damages against Lichauco herself. As stated earlier, it is when the acts done in the performance of official functions by an officer of the government will result in a charge against or financial liability to the government that the complaint must be regarded as a suit against the State itself. However, the distinction must also be raised between where the government official concerned performs an act in his/her official and jurisdictional capacity and where he performs an act that constitutes grave abuse of discretion tantamount to lack of jurisdiction. In the latter case, the Constitution itself assures the availability of judicial review, and it is the official concerned who should be impleaded as the proper party- defendant or respondent. As to the first two causes of action, the Court ruled that the defense of state immunity from suit do not apply since said causes of action cannot be properly considered as suits against the State in constitutional contemplation. These causes of action do not seek to impose a charge or financial liability against the State, but merely the nullification of state action. The prayers attached to these two causes of action are for the revocation of the Notice of Bid and the nullification of the purported award, nothing more. Had it been so that petitioner additionally sought damages in relation to said causes of action, the suit would have been considered as one against the State. Had the petitioner impleaded the DOTC itself, an unincorporated government agency, and not Lichauco herself, the suit would have been considered as one against the State. But neither circumstance obtains in this case. The doctrine, as summarized in Shauf v. Court of Appeals states: “While the doctrine appears to prohibit only suits against the state without its consent, it is also applicable to complaints filed against officials of the state for acts allegedly performed by them in the discharge of their duties. The rule is that if the judgment against such officials will require the state itself to perform an affirmative act to satisfy the same, such as the appropriation of the amount needed to pay the damages awarded against them, the suit must be regarded as against the state itself although it has not been formally impleaded. It must be noted, however, that the rule is not so all-encompassing as to be applicable under all circumstances.” 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 plaintiff. As was clearly set forth by Justice Zaldivar in Director of the Bureau of Telecommunications, et al. vs. Aligaen, etc., et al.: “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 or 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