Posted by: Elmer Brabante | September 1, 2009

Aberca vs. Ver


ROGELIO ABERCA, et al. vs. FABIAN VER, et al.

L-69866

April 15, 1988 

FACTS:

                Sometime in the early 1980s, various Intelligence units of the AFP known as Task Force Makabansa (TFM) were ordered by respondents then Maj. Gen. Fabian Ver to conduct pre-emptive strikes against known communist-terrorist (CT) underground houses in view of increasing reports about CT plans to sow disturbances in Metro Manila.  In compliance thereof, the TFM raided several places, employing in most cases defectively issued judicial search warrants.  During these raids, certain members of the raiding TFM confiscated a number of purely personal items belonging to the 20 petitioners.  Petitioners were arrested without proper arrest warrants issued by the courts.  For some period after their arrest, they were arrested without denied visits of relatives and lawyers; interrogated in violation of their rights to silence and counsel, through threats, torture and other forms of violence in order to obtain incriminatory information or confessions and in order to punish them.

                Plaintiffs then filed an action for damages before the RTC of Quezon City against respondents-officers of the AFP headed by Ver.  Respondents, in their motion to dismiss, claimed that (1) the wrti of habeas corpus was suspended, thus giving credence to petitioners’ detention; (2) respondents were immune from liability for acts done in the performance of their official duties, and that (3) the complaint did not state a cause of action against respondents. 

                On November 8, 1983, the RTC granted the motion to dismiss the case.  A motion to set aside the order dismissing the complaint, and a supplemental motion for reconsideration were filed by petitioners.  On May 11, 1984, the trial court, without acting on the motion to set aside the Order of Nov. 8, 1983, declared the finality of said Order against petitioners.  After their motion for reconsideration was denied by the RTC, petitioners then filed the instant petition for certiorari, on March 15, 1985, seeking to annul and set aside the respondent court’s resolutions and order. 

ISSUES:

(1)     Whether or not the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus bars a civil action for damages for illegal searches conducted by military personnel and other violations of rights and liberties guaranteed under the Constitution;

(2)      Whether or not respondents may invoke state immunity from suit for acts done in the performance of official duties and functions;

(3)      Whether or not a superior officer, under the notion of respondeat superior, be answerable for damages jointly and severally with his subordinates, to the person whose constitutional rights and liberties have been violated. 

HELD:

                (1) The suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus (PWHC) does not destroy petitioners’ right and cause of action for damages for illegal arrest and detention and other violations of their constitutional rights.  The suspension does not render valid an otherwise illegal arrest or detention.  What is suspended is merely the right of the individual to seek release from detention through the writ of habeas corpus as a speedy means of obtaining his liberty. 

                Moreover, as pointed out by petitioners, their right and cause of action for damages are explicitly recognized in PD 1755 which amended Art. 1146 of the Civil Code by adding the following text: However, when the action (for injury to the rights of the plaintiff or for quasi-delict) arises from or out of any act, activity or conduct of any public officer involving the exercise of powers or authority arising from martial law including the arrest, detention and/or trial of the plaintiff, the same must be brought within one year. 

                Even assuming that the suspension of the PWHC suspends petitioners’ right of action for damages for illegal arrest and detention, it does not and cannot suspend their rights and causes of action for injuries suffered because of respondents’ confiscation of their private belongings, the violation of their right to remain silent and to counsel and their right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and against torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. 

                The question became moot and academic since the suspension of the PWHC had been lifted with the issuance of then Pres. Corazon Aquino of Proclamation No. 2 on March 25, 1986. 

                (2) It may be that the respondents, as members of the AFP, were merely responding to their duties, as they claim, “to prevent or suppress lawless violence, insurrection, rebellion and subversion” in accordance with Proclamation No. 2054 of Pres. Marcos, despite the lifting of Martial Law on January 27, 1981, and in pursuance of such objective, to launch pre-emptive strikes against alleged CT underground houses. But this cannot be construed as a blanket license or roving commission untrammeled by any constitutional restraint, to disregard or transgress upon the rights and liberties of the individual citizen enshrined and protected by the Constitution. 

                Article 32 of the Civil Code, which renders any public officer or employees, or any private individual, liable in damages for violating the constitutional rights and liberties of another, does not exempt the respondents from responsibility.  Only judges are excluded from liability under the said article, provided their acts or omissions do not constitute a violation of the Revised Penal Code or other penal statute. 

                This is not say that military authorities are restrained from pursuing their assigned task or carrying out their mission with vigor, to protect the Philippines from its enemies, whether of the left or of the right, or from within or without, seeking to destroy or subvert our democratic institutions and imperil their very existence.  What is meant is that in carrying out their task and mission, constitutional and legal safeguards must be observed; otherwise, the very fabric of our faith will start to unravel.  In the battle of competing ideologies, the struggle of mind is just as vital as the struggle of arms.  The linchpin in that psychological struggle is faith in the rule of law.  Once that faith is lost or compromised, the struggle may well be abandoned. 

                (3)  The doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable in this case.  It has been generally limited in its application to principal and agent or to master and servant relationships.  No such relationship exists superiors of the military and their subordinates.  However, the decisive factor in this case is the language of Art. 32, Civil Code; the law speaks of an officer or employee or person “directly” or “indirectly” responsible for the violation of the constitutional rights and liberties of another.  Thus, it is not the actor alone who must answer for damages under Art. 32; the person indirectly responsible has also to answer for the damages or injury caused to the aggrieved party.  Art. 32 makes the persons who are directly as well as indirectly responsible for the transgression joint tortfeasors.

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