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With Due Respect

Bigamy and psychological incapacity

Per Article 40 of the Family Code, “The absolute nullity of a previous marriage may be invoked for purposes of remarriage on the basis solely of a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void.” Question: May an accused be nonetheless acquitted of bigamy even without a final judgment declaring the previous marriage as void?

“YES,” THE SUPREME COURT RULED IN PULIDO V. PEOPLE (July 27, 2021) penned by Justice Ramon Paul I. Hernando supported unanimously by the Court en banc with three Separate Concurring Opinions (SCOs). But first the facts:

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On Sept. 5, 1983, Luisito, a 16-year-old student, married his 22-year old teacher, Nora. On July 31, 1995, Luisito contracted a second marriage with Rowena. Hurt by the betrayal, Nora charged Luisito and Rowena with bigamy on Dec. 4, 2007.

On June 22, 2009, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Las Piñas City convicted Luisito but acquitted Rowena because she learned of Luisito’s prior marriage only in April 2007. In fact, even prior to the filing of the bigamy charge, she already filed a petition to nullify her marriage to Luisito before the RTC of Imus, Cavite, which, on Oct. 25, 2009, judged the second marriage as void for being bigamous. This judgment attained finality on May 11, 2016. Note that the decision nullifying the second marriage was rendered on Oct. 25, 2009, after the decision convicting Luisito of bigamy was issued on June 22, 2009.

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Jurisprudence flip-flopped on whether or not a judicial declaration of the nullity of the prior marriage was necessary before a conviction for bigamy could be obtained. However, the Court in the said Pulido decision firmly held: “All told, we hold that in criminal prosecutions for bigamy, the accused can validly interpose the defense of a void ab initio marriage even without obtaining a judicial declaration of absolute nullity.” (Bold types in original)

Nonetheless, the judicial declaration is still required for “purposes of remarriage” and for determining the civil rights arising therefrom—like heirship, legitimacy of children, settlement of estates, and dissolution of property regimes.

PSYCHOLOGICAL INCAPACITY (PI) AS A GROUND TO NULLIFY MARRIAGES was copied by the Family Code from Canon Law. It had no prior constitutional, statutory, or jurisprudential precedent. Understandably then, the earliest case on it, (Santos v. Court of Appeals, Jan. 4, 1995), relied on the canonical concept that PI “must be characterized by (a) gravity, (b) juridical antecedence, and (c) incurability.”

The second case (Republic v. Molina, Feb. 13, 1997) followed these characterizations and laid down guidelines sourced mostly from its invited amicus curiae, Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz, presiding judge of the Church’s National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal. The guidelines provided in the main that the “root cause … must be (a) medically or clinically identified, (b) alleged in the complaint, (c) sufficiently proven by experts, and (d) clearly explained in the decision.”

Due to the alleged strictness of the guidelines, very few marriages were nullified. Thus, in subsequent cases, the Court modified the guidelines on a “case-to-case basis” to enable more couples to untie their knots.

LATER, THESE TWO EARLIEST DECISIONS WERE DENOUNCED as “restrictive, rigid, and intrusive on our rights to liberty, autonomy, and human dignity” by the recent Tan-Andal v. Andal (May 11, 2021) decision, penned by Justice Marvic M. V. F. Leonen supported unanimously by his colleagues with nine SCOs. Specifically, it abandoned the basic guideline quoted above and held that expert evidence is not needed as even ordinary lay people can determine the presence of PI.

I do not have the space to detail the case further, except to say that, IMHO, the newly-installed proceedings to nullify marriages due to PI are strikingly similar to absolute divorce in many jurisdictions.

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To the religious university administrators and alumni patient enough to read the decision and SCOs, I ask: Are they consistent with St. Thomas More’s “The King’s good servant but God’s first?” Do they reflect the Atenean “amDg,” the Bedan “Ora et labora,” and the Thomasian “Veritas.” Let them judge the judges; I dare not for I am just a humble offspring of the “Be brave” tradition of a nonsectarian university that does not have an incumbent member of the Court.

Alternatively, instead of mangling the canonical PI, should the Court have just waited and allowed Congress to legislate absolute divorce, if that be the sovereign will?

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TAGS: annulment, Artemio V. Panganiban, bigamy, psychological incapacity, With Due Respect
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