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REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES SUPREME COURT MANILA

G.R. No. L-10659

Jan. 31, 1958

LEONARDO PALAFOX, et. al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, versus PROVINCE OF ILOCOS NORTE, THE DISTRICT ENGINEER AND THE PROVINCIAL TREASURER, Defendants and Appellees.

The Court of First Instance of Ilocos Norte dismissed plaintiffs' claim against the above appellees for damages arising from the death of their father Proceto Palafox, who had been run over by a freight truck driven by Sabas Torralba on September 30, 1948. The latter was a chauffeur of the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte detailed to the office of the District Engineer; and on the said date he drove the motor vehicle along the National Highway in compliance with his duties as such. Prosecuted for homicide through reckless imprudence, Sabas Torralba pleaded guilty and was accordingly sentenced.

Having reserved their right to file civil action, the heirs subsequently began these proceedings against the employer the province, the District Engineer, the Provincial Treasurer and Sabas Torralba.

Upon a motion to dismiss, the Hon. Fidel Villaneuva, Judge, quashed the case against the defendants, except Sabas Torralba. Hence, this appeal.

There being no allegation, His Honor explained, that said province and officers had been “engaged in some kind of industry” as provided in Art. 103 of the Revised Penal Code, no cause of action exists against them. For purposes of clarification said article is quoted herewith.

“ART. 103. Subsidiary civil liability of other persons. - The subsidiary liability established in the next preceding article shall also apply to employers, teachers, persons, and corporations engaged in any kind of industry for felonies committed by their servants, pupils, workmen, apprentices, or employees in the discharge of their duties.”

Appellants insist that the basis of their demand for indemnity is not the above Art. 103, but Art. 1903 of the Civil Code providing as follows:

“ART. 1903. The obligation imposed by the next preceding articles is enforceable not only for personal acts and omissions, but also for those of persons for whom another is responsible. x x x.

The State is liable in this sense when it acts through a special agent, but not when the damage has been caused by the official upon whom properly devolved the duty of doing the act performed, in which case the provisions of the preceding article shall be applicable. x x x.”

It will be observed that to attach liability to the State for the negligence of Sabas Torralba a declaration must be made that he was a “special agent,” - and not one upon whom properly devolved the duty of driving the truck on that occasion. Such ruling may not be made, because in Merrit v. Government of the Philippines, 34 Phil. 311, this Court absolved the Government from liability for damages caused through the negligence of the driver of a Philippine General Hospital's ambulance that collided with and injured a motorcycle rider (Merrit) holding (contrary to claimants claimant's contention) that the driver was not a special agent of the Government within the scope of Art. 1903 of the Civil Code.

And let it not be argued that the principle applies only to the Insular, as distinguished from the provincial or municipal governments; because this Court has interpreted “the State” to mean “Government of the Philippines,” and these words include both central and the local governments. (Sec. 2 Revised Administrative Code.)

As an alternative, the appellants invoke the doctrine of respondeat superior as illustrated in the case of Mendoza v. De Leon, 33 Phil. 508, concerning liability of municipal corporations for negligent acts of their employees. Two quotations from said decision will offer sufficient guidance for adjudication.

“The municipality is not liable for the acts of its officers or agents in the performance of its governmental functions. Governmental affairs do not lose their governmental character by being delegated to the municipal governments. Nor does the fact that such duties are performed by officers of the municipality which, for convenience, the state allows the municipality to select, change their character. To preserve the peace, protect the morals and health of the community and so on to administer government, whether it be done by the central government itself or is shifted to a local organization. And the state being immune for injuries suffered by private individuals in the administration of strictly governmental functions, like immunity is enjoyed by the municipality in the performance of the same duties, unless it is expressly made liable by statute.” (Mendoza vs. De Leon, 33 Phil. 508; 511)

“A municipality is not exempt from liability for the negligent performance of its corporate or proprietary or business functions. In the administration of its patrimonial property, it is to be regarded as a private corporation or individual so far as its liability to third persons on contract or in tort is concerned. Its contracts, validly entered into, may be enforced and damages may be collected from it for the torts of its officers or agents within the scope of their employment in precisely the same manner and to the same extent as those of private corporations or individuals. As to such matters the principles of respondeat superior applies. It is for these purposes that the municipality is made liable to suits in the courts.” (Mendoza v. De Leon, 33 Phil. 508; 513-514)

Here we see that if the negligent employee was engaged in the performance of governmental duties, as distinguished from corporate or proprietary or business functions – the government is not liable. The construction or maintenance of roads in which the truck and the driver worked at the time of the accident are admittedly governmental activities. Wherefore, the death of Palafox - tragic and deplorable though as it may be – imposed on the province no duty to pay monetary compensation. The reason for the exemption according to Mr. Justice Story is that the Government “does not undertake to guarantee to any person the fidelity of the officers or agents whom it employs, since that would involve in all its operations in endless embarrassments, difficulties and loses which would be subversive of the public interest.” (U.S. v. Kirkpatrick, 9 Wheat., 720; 6 L. ed., 199; Beers v. Arkansas, 20 How., 527; 15 L. ed., 991.)

The judgment will be affirmed with costs against appellants.

(SGD.) CESAR BENGZON

WE CONCUR:

(SGD.) RICARDO PARAS (SGD.) MARCELIANO R. MONTEMAYOR (SGD.) FELIX BAUTISTA ANGELO (SGD.) JOSE B.L. REYES (SGD.) SABINO PADILLA (SGD.) ALEX. REYES (SGD.) ALEJO LABRADOR (SGD.) PASTOR M. ENDENCIA (SGD.) ALFONSO FELIX

I reserve my vote – (SGD.) ROBERTO CONCEPCION