Holy See v Rosario

GR No. 101949 ; Dec 1, 1994


Petitioner is the Holy See who exercises sovereignty over the Vatican City in Rome, Italy, and is represented in the Philippines by the Papal Nuncio. Private respondent, Starbright Sales Enterprises, Inc., (Starbright) is a domestic corporation engaged in the real estate business.

The case stemmed from a controversy over a parcel of land (Lot 5-A) located in Parañaque, Metro Manila and registered in the name of petitioner. Said Lot 5-A is contiguous to Lots 5-B and 5-D registered in the name of the Philippine Realty Corporation (PRC). The three lots were sold to Ramon Licup, through Msgr. Domingo A. Cirilos, Jr., acting as agent to the sellers. Afterwards, Licup assigned his rights to the sale to Starbright. In view of the refusal of the squatters to vacate the lots sold to Starbright, a dispute arose as to who among the parties has the responsibility of evicting and clearing the land of squatters. Further, petitioner sold Lot 5-A to Tropicana Properties and Development Corporation (Tropicana).

Starbright filed a complaint for the annulment of the sale of the three parcels of land, and specific performance and damages against petitioner, represented by the Papal Nuncio, and three other defendants: namely, Msgr. Domingo A. Cirilos, Jr., the PRC and Tropicana. It prayed for: (1) the annulment of the Deeds of Sale between petitioner and the PRC on the one hand, and Tropicana on the other; (2) the reconveyance of the lots in question; (3) specific performance of the agreement to sell between it and the owners of the lots; and (4) damages.

Petitioner and Msgr. Cirilos separately moved to dismiss the complaint, petitioner for lack of jurisdiction based on sovereign immunity from suit, and Msgr. Cirilos for being an improper party. 


1. Is the Holy See immune from suit insofar as its business relations regarding selling a lot to a private entity?

2. Is statehood vested in the Vatican City or Holy See?


1. YES. The Republic of the Philippines has accorded the Holy See the status of a foreign sovereign. The Holy See, through its Ambassador, the Papal Nuncio, has had diplomatic representations with the Philippine government since 1957. This appears to be the universal practice in international relations. 

As expressed in Section 2 of Article II of the 1987 Constitution, the Philippines has adopted the generally accepted principles of international law. Even without this affirmation, such principles of international law are deemed incorporated as part of the law of the land as a condition and consequence of our admission in the society of nations. There are two conflicting concepts of sovereign immunity, each widely held and firmly established. According to the classical or absolute theory, a sovereign cannot, without its consent, be made a respondent in the courts of another sovereign. According to the newer or restrictive theory, the immunity of the sovereign is recognized only with regard to public acts or acts jure imperii of a state, but not with regard to private acts or acts jure gestionis.

In the case at bench, if the petitioner has bought and sold lands in the ordinary course of a real estate business, surely the said transaction can be categorized as an act jure gestionis. However, petitioner has denied that the acquisition and subsequent disposal of Lot 5-A were made for profit but claimed that it acquired said property for the site of its mission or the Apostolic Nunciature in the Philippines. Private respondent failed to dispute said claim. Lot 5-A was acquired by petitioner as a donation from the Archdiocese of Manila. The donation was made not for commercial purpose, but for the use of the petitioner to construct thereon the official place of residence of the Papal Nuncio. The right of a foreign sovereign to acquire property, real or personal, in a receiving state, necessary for the creation and maintenance of its diplomatic mission, is recognized in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

In Article 31(a) of the Convention, a diplomatic envoy is granted immunity from the civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving state over any real action relating to private immovable property situated in the territory of the receiving state which the envoy holds on behalf of the sending state for the purposes of the mission. If this immunity is provided for a diplomatic envoy, with all the more reason should immunity be recognized as regards the sovereign itself, which in this case is the Holy See.

2. YES. In 1929, Italy and the Holy See entered into the Lateran Treaty, where Italy recognized the exclusive dominion and sovereign jurisdiction of the Holy See over the Vatican City. It also recognized the right of the Holy See to receive foreign diplomats, to send its own diplomats to foreign countries, and to enter into treaties according to International Law. The Lateran Treaty established the statehood of the Vatican City "for the purpose of assuring to the Holy See absolute and visible independence and of guaranteeing to it indisputable sovereignty also in the field of international relations".

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