Word and intent of the law
In our country, marriage is an inviolable institution. So a valid marriage cannot be dissolved by absolute divorce where the spouses are allowed to remarry. But under Article 26 par.2 of the Family Code (FC), a divorce obtained by a foreign spouse who got married to a Filipino spouse here in the Philippines allowing such spouse to remarry may be recognized here upon petition of the Filipino spouse. This is the law applied in this case of Cathy and her South Korean husband Kim.
Cathy and Kim got married in the City of Manila. Philippines. Unfortunately, after only about four months, their relationship turned sour and ended in a divorce by mutual agreement in South Korea. After the divorce was confirmed by a Korean Court, Cathy filed before the Regional Trial Court in Cathy’s Philippine province a Petition for the Judicial Recognition of a Foreign Divorce.
Finding the Petition for Recognition sufficient in form and substance, the RTC issued an order setting the case for hearing. After said order was published once a week for three weeks in a local newspaper of general circulation, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) filed a Notice of Appearance as counsel of the Republic of the Philippines assisted by the Public Prosecutor of the province.
During the presentation of evidence, Cathy’s sister and attorney-in-fact, Amanda, testified and identified and affirmed her Judicial Affidavit averring that Cathy could not personally testify because her Korean Visa expired upon her divorce with Kim. Nevertheless Amanda claimed, among others, that Kim intended to marry his former girlfriend and that Cathy was forced to agree to the divorce because Kim threatened to kill her.
Thereafter, the RTC granted the Petition and recognized the Divorce Decree obtained in Korea. It directed the Local Civil Registrar to record said decree, legally capacitating Cathy to remarry under Philippine Laws. The OSG questioned this decision before the CA after its motion for reconsideration was denied by the RTC. It contended, among others, that absolute divorce is not allowed in this jurisdiction and Cathy is not qualified to avail of the benefits provided by Article 26 of the FC.
The CA granted the appeal of the OSG and reversed and set aside the decision of the RTC. It held that the divorce decree cannot be recognized in this jurisdiction in so far as Cathy is concerned because it was obtained by mutual agreement. According to the CA, the fact that the divorce decree had been obtained by mutual agreement of Cathy and Kim precludes the application of Article 26 (2) of the FC since said Article requires that the divorce decree be obtained solely by the foreign spouse. Was the CA correct?
The Supreme Court said that the CA is not correct. According to the SC, Article 26 (2) only requires that there be a divorce decree validly obtained abroad. It does not demand that the alien spouse should be the one who initiated the proceeding wherein the divorce decree was granted. It does not distinguish whether the Filipino spouse is the petitioner or the respondent in the foreign divorce proceeding. The purpose of paragraph 2 Article 26 is to avoid the absurd situation where the Filipino spouse remains married to the alien spouse who is no longer married to the Filipino spouse. It is a corrective measure to address an anomaly where the Filipino spouse is tied to the marriage while the foreign spouse is free to remarry under the laws of his/her country.
Whether the Filipino spouse initiated the foreign divorce proceeding or not, a favorable decree dissolving the marriage bond and capacitating his/her alien spouse to remarry will have the same result; the Filipino spouse will effectively be without a husband or wife. A Filipino who initiated a foreign divorce proceeding is in the same situation and in like circumstances as a Filipino who is at the receiving end of an alien-initiated proceeding. In both instances, it is intended as a means to recognize the residual effect of the foreign divorce decree on Filipinos whose marital ties to their alien spouse are severed by operation of the latter’s national law. So the CA decision is hereby reversed and set aside and the RTC decision reinstated (Galapon vs. Republic, G.R. 243722, Jan. 22, 2020).
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