PH cites immunity in damage suit by bus hostage victims

Posted at 10/21/12 5:18 PM

MANILA, Philippines -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima played down the Hong Kong government’s move supporting the damage suit set to be filed by the victims of the 2010 bus hostage crisis against the Philippines.

De Lima cited the concept of sovereign immunity, which means the state can’t just be prosecuted in a case.

The Supreme Court earlier described sovereign immunity on the following two concepts: based on the classical or absolute theory, a sovereign can’t, without its consent, be made a respondent in the court of another sovereign; and based on the restrictive theory, the immunity of the sovereign is recognized only with regard to public acts.

“The grant of the Hong Kong government to the relatives of the hostage victims has neither legal consequence of significance in international law,” said de Lima, who also headed the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) that investigated the incident.

A discharged police officer took hostage several Hong Kong tourists onboard a bus on August 23, 2010. The almost 12-hour siege ended in a bloodbath, with a total of nine dead, including the gunman.

Last October 12, the Radio Television Hong Kong reported that the high court master allowed the survivors and relatives of the fatalities to seek legal help from their government in suing the Philippines for damages.

This, amid the Hong Kong Legal Aid Department’s initial refusal to grant legal aid due to the Philippines’ defense of immunity from suits.

De Lima said Hong Kong’s decision this time could be a mere “expression of moral support of to the victims of the Luneta incident by their government.”

Another member of the IIRC said, however, that the development should already not come as a surprise.

“Some officials could be really held liable for negligence based on our report,” Integrated Bar of the Philippines national president Roan Libarios said.

He did not comment, however, on the defense of the Philippine government regarding the immunity from suits.