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Siamese twins

/ 09:37 PM December 13, 2011

Now that the articles of impeachment against Supreme Court Chief  Justice Renato Corona have been compiled and transmitted by Congress  to the Senate, we are in for yet another televised impeachment trial whose viewership is bound to surpass even those of the most popular  teleserye or inane game show. Somber robes had already been tailor-made for each senator when an impeachment against Ombudsman  Merceditas Gutierrez was brewing, but these had to be shelved because  she resigned before the game began. What new Latin legal terms will the public learn this time? Will one senator replay his previous role to retain the title “Mr. Noted”?

Years ago, while hunting in the second-hand bookstores along Recto Avenue in downtown Manila, I would come across heavy bound volumes  marked “Philippine Reports” that contained transcripts of cases decided by the Supreme Court. Browsing through a few of these volumes, I realized that while the law may be mysterious to non-lawyers  there is much in compiled jurisprudence that can be turned into  short stories, novels, plays and screenplays. Obscure cases concerning real people and real situations await the curious eye and  facile pen of a historian or creative writer. While much of the  material has been digested and annotated, and some of it is actually  available online, it is a new field that requires some exploration of  the terrain.

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Today’s topic is best left to fellow columnists Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ  and retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban. But while watching TV news on the impeachment of the Chief Justice, I was also surfing the Net for photos of the world famous Godino Twins from Samar who were rescued from a Coney Island Circus freak show by Teodoro Yangco and adopted as his own. What made the Godino or Yangco Twins celebrities in their time was the fact that they were “Siamese twins” or conjoined twins.

This condition caused two legal difficulties. The first occurred when Lucio and Simplicio Godino were given a car by their foster father and they got involved in an accident due to drunk driving. The incident was recounted in the Morning Avalanche, an obscure Texas newspaper, on Sept. 18, 1929:

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“Incidentally this auto once led them into a scrape from which their quick wit saved them. Lucio was driving through Manila one day at a rapid speed and grazed a carabao cart [injuring the driver]. He was arrested and the judge sentenced him to five days in jail [for reckless and drunk driving]. But Simplicio appealed the case on the ground that he, an innocent man, could not legally be sent to jail:  and since it was impossible to jail Lucio without jailing Simplicio, the two boys got off.”

What would have happened if the case was not an automobile accident but a murder? If Lucio had killed a man on the street at whim and was found guilty, would the same leniency have been shown to them? How would you  imprison the guilty Lucio with the innocent Simplicio? Being Siamese  twins they had two bodies joined at the pelvis by fibrous tissue and  skin, they had two heads, but were they considered legally as one  person or as two? Could the biblical Solomonic solution be applied to the case, where Lucio and Simplicio would be separated by sword or scalpel so that the guilty could serve his sentence alone? Is that as simple as splitting the iconic popsicle “Twin Popsies” in two, or do we need the Supreme Court to rule on such a case?

To complicate matters, Lucio and Simplicio fell in love and eventually married sisters, Natividad and Victorina Matos. That gave rise to a second legal problem here recounted in the Morning Avalanche:

“There nearly was a hitch at the last minute, when a marriage license clerk ruled that the twins were one person and not two, and hence could not marry two girls without committing some form of bigamy. They appealed to a higher authority, however. The clerk was overruled, the licenses were issued and the wedding was held.

“The double wedding was one of the biggest ceremonies Manila has seen in years. It was solemnized in the greatest church on the islands, with Don Teodoro and his niece acting as padrino and madrin[a]. And  the huge church was crowded to the doors by friends and well-wishers.  After the ceremony there was a great banquet in Don Teodoro’s home  with the elite of Manila’s social and political circles in attendance.”

One can only imagine what their first night was like, but theirs is a  story fit for a play or a musical—from their birth in Samar in 1908  to their trip to the US to appear in a Coney Island freak show, to  their adoption by the millionaire Teodoro Yangco who gave them the  opportunity to live a normal life despite their abnormal situation.

Lucio died of pneumonia in New York in 1936.  They were finally  separated to preserve the life of Simplicio, who passed away 12 days later.

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Pregnant or expectant mothers in the Philippines are advised against eating twin bananas (“Twinanas” to some) lest they produce twins. If the woman just wants the bananas but not the twins, she should split the banana in two behind her back. Did this superstition come about because of the Godino Twins?

Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.

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