Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. L-19671           November 29, 1965

PASTOR B. TENCHAVEZ, plaintiff-appellant,
vs.
VICENTA F. ESCAÑO, ET AL., defendants-appellees.

I. V. Binamira & F. B. Barria for plaintiff-appellant.
Jalandoni & Jarnir for defendants-appellees.

REYES, J.B.L., J.:

Direct appeal, on factual and legal questions, from the judgment of the Court of First Instance of Cebu, in its Civil Case No. R-4177, denying the claim of the plaintiff-appellant, Pastor B. Tenchavez, for legal separation and one million pesos in damages against his wife and parents-in-law, the defendants-appellees, Vicente, Mamerto and Mena,1 all surnamed "Escaño," respectively.2

The facts, supported by the evidence of record, are the following:

Missing her late afternoon classes on 24 February 1948 in the University of San Carlos, Cebu City, where she was then enrolled as a second year student of commerce, Vicenta Escaño, 27 years of age (scion of a well-to-do and socially prominent Filipino family of Spanish ancestry and a "sheltered colegiala"), exchanged marriage vows with Pastor Tenchavez, 32 years of age, an engineer, ex-army officer and of undistinguished stock, without the knowledge of her parents, before a Catholic chaplain, Lt. Moises Lavares, in the house of one Juan Alburo in the said city. The marriage was the culmination of a previous love affair and was duly registered with the local civil register.

Vicenta's letters to Pastor, and his to her, before the marriage, indicate that the couple were deeply in love. Together with a friend, Pacita Noel, their matchmaker and go-between, they had planned out their marital future whereby Pacita would be the governess of their first-born; they started saving money in a piggy bank. A few weeks before their secret marriage, their engagement was broken; Vicenta returned the engagement ring and accepted another suitor, Joseling Lao. Her love for Pastor beckoned; she pleaded for his return, and they reconciled. This time they planned to get married and then elope. To facilitate the elopement, Vicenta had brought some of her clothes to the room of Pacita Noel in St. Mary's Hall, which was their usual trysting place.

Although planned for the midnight following their marriage, the elopement did not, however, materialize because when Vicente went back to her classes after the marriage, her mother, who got wind of the intended nuptials, was already waiting for her at the college. Vicenta was taken home where she admitted that she had already married Pastor. Mamerto and Mena Escaño were surprised, because Pastor never asked for the hand of Vicente, and were disgusted because of the great scandal that the clandestine marriage would provoke (t.s.n., vol. III, pp. 1105-06). The following morning, the Escaño spouses sought priestly advice. Father Reynes suggested a recelebration to validate what he believed to be an invalid marriage, from the standpoint of the Church, due to the lack of authority from the Archbishop or the parish priest for the officiating chaplain to celebrate the marriage. The recelebration did not take place, because on 26 February 1948 Mamerto Escaño was handed by a maid, whose name he claims he does not remember, a letter purportedly coming from San Carlos college students and disclosing an amorous relationship between Pastor Tenchavez and Pacita Noel; Vicenta translated the letter to her father, and thereafter would not agree to a new marriage. Vicenta and Pastor met that day in the house of Mrs. Pilar Mendezona. Thereafter, Vicenta continued living with her parents while Pastor returned to his job in Manila. Her letter of 22 March 1948 (Exh. "M"), while still solicitous of her husband's welfare, was not as endearing as her previous letters when their love was aflame.

Vicenta was bred in Catholic ways but is of a changeable disposition, and Pastor knew it. She fondly accepted her being called a "jellyfish." She was not prevented by her parents from communicating with Pastor (Exh. "1-Escaño"), but her letters became less frequent as the days passed. As of June, 1948 the newlyweds were already estranged (Exh. "2-Escaño"). Vicenta had gone to Jimenez, Misamis Occidental, to escape from the scandal that her marriage stirred in Cebu society. There, a lawyer filed for her a petition, drafted by then Senator Emmanuel Pelaez, to annul her marriage. She did not sign the petition (Exh. "B-5"). The case was dismissed without prejudice because of her non-appearance at the hearing (Exh. "B-4").

On 24 June 1950, without informing her husband, she applied for a passport, indicating in her application that she was single, that her purpose was to study, and she was domiciled in Cebu City, and that she intended to return after two years. The application was approved, and she left for the United States. On 22 August 1950, she filed a verified complaint for divorce against the herein plaintiff in the Second Judicial District Court of the State of Nevada in and for the County of Washoe, on the ground of "extreme cruelty, entirely mental in character." On 21 October 1950, a decree of divorce, "final and absolute", was issued in open court by the said tribunal.

In 1951 Mamerto and Mena Escaño filed a petition with the Archbishop of Cebu to annul their daughter's marriage to Pastor (Exh. "D"). On 10 September 1954, Vicenta sought papal dispensation of her marriage (Exh. "D"-2).

On 13 September 1954, Vicenta married an American, Russell Leo Moran, in Nevada. She now lives with him in California, and, by him, has begotten children. She acquired American citizenship on 8 August 1958.

But on 30 July 1955, Tenchavez had initiated the proceedings at bar by a complaint in the Court of First Instance of Cebu, and amended on 31 May 1956, against Vicenta F. Escaño, her parents, Mamerto and Mena Escaño, whom he charged with having dissuaded and discouraged Vicenta from joining her husband, and alienating her affections, and against the Roman Catholic Church, for having, through its Diocesan Tribunal, decreed the annulment of the marriage, and asked for legal separation and one million pesos in damages. Vicenta claimed a valid divorce from plaintiff and an equally valid marriage to her present husband, Russell Leo Moran; while her parents denied that they had in any way influenced their daughter's acts, and counterclaimed for moral damages.

The appealed judgment did not decree a legal separation, but freed the plaintiff from supporting his wife and to acquire property to the exclusion of his wife. It allowed the counterclaim of Mamerto Escaño and Mena Escaño for moral and exemplary damages and attorney's fees against the plaintiff-appellant, to the extent of P45,000.00, and plaintiff resorted directly to this Court.

The appellant ascribes, as errors of the trial court, the following:

1. In not declaring legal separation; in not holding defendant Vicenta F. Escaño liable for damages and in dismissing the complaint;.

2. In not holding the defendant parents Mamerto Escano and the heirs of Doña Mena Escaño liable for damages;.

3 In holding the plaintiff liable for and requiring him to pay the damages to the defendant parents on their counterclaims; and.

4. In dismissing the complaint and in denying the relief sought by the plaintiff.

That on 24 February 1948 the plaintiff-appellant, Pastor Tenchavez, and the defendant-appellee, Vicenta Escaño, were validly married to each other, from the standpoint of our civil law, is clearly established by the record before us. Both parties were then above the age of majority, and otherwise qualified; and both consented to the marriage, which was performed by a Catholic priest (army chaplain Lavares) in the presence of competent witnesses. It is nowhere shown that said priest was not duly authorized under civil law to solemnize marriages.

The chaplain's alleged lack of ecclesiastical authorization from the parish priest and the Ordinary, as required by Canon law, is irrelevant in our civil law, not only because of the separation of Church and State but also because Act 3613 of the Philippine Legislature (which was the marriage law in force at the time) expressly provided that

SEC. 1. Essential requisites. Essential requisites for marriage are the legal capacity of the contracting parties and consent. (Emphasis supplied)

The actual authority of the solemnizing officer was thus only a formal requirement, and, therefore, not essential to give the marriage civil effects,3 and this is emphasized by section 27 of said marriage act, which provided the following:

SEC. 27. Failure to comply with formal requirements. No marriage shall be declared invalid because of the absence of one or several of the formal requirements of this Act if, when it was performed, the spouses or one of them believed in good faith that the person who solemnized the marriage was actually empowered to do so, and that the marriage was perfectly legal.

The good faith of all the parties to the marriage (and hence the validity of their marriage) will be presumed until the contrary is positively proved (Lao vs. Dee Tim, 45 Phil. 739, 745; Francisco vs. Jason, 60 Phil. 442, 448). It is well to note here that in the case at bar, doubts as to the authority of the solemnizing priest arose only after the marriage, when Vicenta's parents consulted Father Reynes and the archbishop of Cebu. Moreover, the very act of Vicenta in abandoning her original action for annulment and subsequently suing for divorce implies an admission that her marriage to plaintiff was valid and binding.

Defendant Vicenta Escaño argues that when she contracted the marriage she was under the undue influence of Pacita Noel, whom she charges to have been in conspiracy with appellant Tenchavez. Even granting, for argument's sake, the truth of that contention, and assuming that Vicenta's consent was vitiated by fraud and undue influence, such vices did not render her marriage ab initio void, but merely voidable, and the marriage remained valid until annulled by a competent civil court. This was never done, and admittedly, Vicenta's suit for annulment in the Court of First Instance of Misamis was dismissed for non-prosecution.

It is equally clear from the record that the valid marriage between Pastor Tenchavez and Vicenta Escaño remained subsisting and undissolved under Philippine law, notwithstanding the decree of absolute divorce that the wife sought and obtained on 21 October 1950 from the Second Judicial District Court of Washoe County, State of Nevada, on grounds of "extreme cruelty, entirely mental in character." At the time the divorce decree was issued, Vicenta Escaño, like her husband, was still a Filipino citizen.4 She was then subject to Philippine law, and Article 15 of the Civil Code of the Philippines (Rep. Act No. 386), already in force at the time, expressly provided:

Laws relating to family rights and duties or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon the citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.

The Civil Code of the Philippines, now in force, does not admit absolute divorce, quo ad vinculo matrimonii; and in fact does not even use that term, to further emphasize its restrictive policy on the matter, in contrast to the preceding legislation that admitted absolute divorce on grounds of adultery of the wife or concubinage of the husband (Act 2710). Instead of divorce, the present Civil Code only provides for legal separation (Title IV, Book 1, Arts. 97 to 108), and, even in that case, it expressly prescribes that "the marriage bonds shall not be severed" (Art. 106, subpar. 1).

For the Philippine courts to recognize and give recognition or effect to a foreign decree of absolute divorce betiveen Filipino citizens could be a patent violation of the declared public policy of the state, specially in view of the third paragraph of Article 17 of the Civil Code that prescribes the following:

Prohibitive laws concerning persons, their acts or property, and those which have for their object public order, policy and good customs, shall not be rendered ineffective by laws or judgments promulgated, or by determinations or conventions agreed upon in a foreign country.

Even more, the grant of effectivity in this jurisdiction to such foreign divorce decrees would, in effect, give rise to an irritating and scandalous discrimination in favor of wealthy citizens, to the detriment of those members of our polity whose means do not permit them to sojourn abroad and obtain absolute divorces outside the Philippines.

From this point of view, it is irrelevant that appellant Pastor Tenchavez should have appeared in the Nevada divorce court. Primarily because the policy of our law cannot be nullified by acts of private parties (Civil Code,Art. 17, jam quot.); and additionally, because the mere appearance of a non-resident consort cannot confer jurisdiction where the court originally had none (Area vs. Javier, 95 Phil. 579).

From the preceding facts and considerations, there flows as a necessary consequence that in this jurisdiction Vicenta Escaño's divorce and second marriage are not entitled to recognition as valid; for her previous union to plaintiff Tenchavez must be declared to be existent and undissolved. It follows, likewise, that her refusal to perform her wifely duties, and her denial of consortium and her desertion of her husband constitute in law a wrong caused through her fault, for which the husband is entitled to the corresponding indemnity (Civil Code, Art. 2176). Neither an unsubstantiated charge of deceit nor an anonymous letter charging immorality against the husband constitute, contrary to her claim, adequate excuse. Wherefore, her marriage and cohabitation with Russell Leo Moran is technically "intercourse with a person not her husband" from the standpoint of Philippine Law, and entitles plaintiff-appellant Tenchavez to a decree of "legal separation under our law, on the basis of adultery" (Revised Penal Code, Art. 333).

The foregoing conclusions as to the untoward effect of a marriage after an invalid divorce are in accord with the previous doctrines and rulings of this court on the subject, particularly those that were rendered under our laws prior to the approval of the absolute divorce act (Act 2710 of the Philippine Legislature). As a matter of legal history, our statutes did not recognize divorces a vinculo before 1917, when Act 2710 became effective; and the present Civil Code of the Philippines, in disregarding absolute divorces, in effect merely reverted to the policies on the subject prevailing before Act 2710. The rulings, therefore, under the Civil Code of 1889, prior to the Act above-mentioned, are now, fully applicable. Of these, the decision in Ramirez vs. Gmur, 42 Phil. 855, is of particular interest. Said this Court in that case:

As the divorce granted by the French Court must be ignored, it results that the marriage of Dr. Mory and Leona Castro, celebrated in London in 1905, could not legalize their relations; and the circumstance that they afterwards passed for husband and wife in Switzerland until her death is wholly without legal significance. The claims of the very children to participate in the estate of Samuel Bishop must therefore be rejected. The right to inherit is limited to legitimate, legitimated and acknowledged natural children. The children of adulterous relations are wholly excluded. The word "descendants" as used in Article 941 of the Civil Code cannot be interpreted to include illegitimates born of adulterous relations. (Emphasis supplied)

Except for the fact that the successional rights of the children, begotten from Vicenta's marriage to Leo Moran after the invalid divorce, are not involved in the case at bar, the Gmur case is authority for the proposition that such union is adulterous in this jurisdiction, and, therefore, justifies an action for legal separation on the part of the innocent consort of the first marriage, that stands undissolved in Philippine law. In not so declaring, the trial court committed error.

True it is that our ruling gives rise to anomalous situations where the status of a person (whether divorced or not) would depend on the territory where the question arises. Anomalies of this kind are not new in the Philippines, and the answer to them was given in Barretto vs. Gonzales, 58 Phil. 667:

The hardship of the existing divorce laws in the Philippine Islands are well known to the members of the Legislature. It is the duty of the Courts to enforce the laws of divorce as written by Legislature if they are constitutional. Courts have no right to say that such laws are too strict or too liberal. (p. 72)

The appellant's first assignment of error is, therefore, sustained.

However, the plaintiff-appellant's charge that his wife's parents, Dr. Mamerto Escaño and his wife, the late Doña Mena Escaño, alienated the affections of their daughter and influenced her conduct toward her husband are not supported by credible evidence. The testimony of Pastor Tenchavez about the Escaño's animosity toward him strikes us to be merely conjecture and exaggeration, and are belied by Pastor's own letters written before this suit was begun (Exh. "2-Escaño" and "Vicenta," Rec. on App., pp. 270-274). In these letters he expressly apologized to the defendants for "misjudging them" and for the "great unhappiness" caused by his "impulsive blunders" and "sinful pride," "effrontery and audacity" [sic]. Plaintiff was admitted to the Escaño house to visit and court Vicenta, and the record shows nothing to prove that he would not have been accepted to marry Vicente had he openly asked for her hand, as good manners and breeding demanded. Even after learning of the clandestine marriage, and despite their shock at such unexpected event, the parents of Vicenta proposed and arranged that the marriage be recelebrated in strict conformity with the canons of their religion upon advice that the previous one was canonically defective. If no recelebration of the marriage ceremony was had it was not due to defendants Mamerto Escaño and his wife, but to the refusal of Vicenta to proceed with it. That the spouses Escaño did not seek to compel or induce their daughter to assent to the recelebration but respected her decision, or that they abided by her resolve, does not constitute in law an alienation of affections. Neither does the fact that Vicenta's parents sent her money while she was in the United States; for it was natural that they should not wish their daughter to live in penury even if they did not concur in her decision to divorce Tenchavez (27 Am. Jur. 130-132).

There is no evidence that the parents of Vicenta, out of improper motives, aided and abetted her original suit for annulment, or her subsequent divorce; she appears to have acted independently, and being of age, she was entitled to judge what was best for her and ask that her decisions be respected. Her parents, in so doing, certainly cannot be charged with alienation of affections in the absence of malice or unworthy motives, which have not been shown, good faith being always presumed until the contrary is proved.

SEC. 529. Liability of Parents, Guardians or Kin. The law distinguishes between the right of a parent to interest himself in the marital affairs of his child and the absence of rights in a stranger to intermeddle in such affairs. However, such distinction between the liability of parents and that of strangers is only in regard to what will justify interference. A parent isliable for alienation of affections resulting from his own malicious conduct, as where he wrongfully entices his son or daughter to leave his or her spouse, but he is not liable unless he acts maliciously, without justification and from unworthy motives. He is not liable where he acts and advises his child in good faith with respect to his child's marital relations in the interest of his child as he sees it, the marriage of his child not terminating his right and liberty to interest himself in, and be extremely solicitous for, his child's welfare and happiness, even where his conduct and advice suggest or result in the separation of the spouses or the obtaining of a divorce or annulment, or where he acts under mistake or misinformation, or where his advice or interference are indiscreet or unfortunate, although it has been held that the parent is liable for consequences resulting from recklessness. He may in good faith take his child into his home and afford him or her protection and support, so long as he has not maliciously enticed his child away, or does not maliciously entice or cause him or her to stay away, from his or her spouse. This rule has more frequently been applied in the case of advice given to a married daughter, but it is equally applicable in the case of advice given to a son.

Plaintiff Tenchavez, in falsely charging Vicenta's aged parents with racial or social discrimination and with having exerted efforts and pressured her to seek annulment and divorce, unquestionably caused them unrest and anxiety, entitling them to recover damages. While this suit may not have been impelled by actual malice, the charges were certainly reckless in the face of the proven facts and circumstances. Court actions are not established for parties to give vent to their prejudices or spleen.

In the assessment of the moral damages recoverable by appellant Pastor Tenchavez from defendant Vicente Escaño, it is proper to take into account, against his patently unreasonable claim for a million pesos in damages, that (a) the marriage was celebrated in secret, and its failure was not characterized by publicity or undue humiliation on appellant's part; (b) that the parties never lived together; and (c) that there is evidence that appellant had originally agreed to the annulment of the marriage, although such a promise was legally invalid, being against public policy (cf. Art. 88, Civ. Code). While appellant is unable to remarry under our law, this fact is a consequence of the indissoluble character of the union that appellant entered into voluntarily and with open eyes rather than of her divorce and her second marriage. All told, we are of the opinion that appellant should recover P25,000 only by way of moral damages and attorney's fees.

With regard to the P45,000 damages awarded to the defendants, Dr. Mamerto Escaño and Mena Escaño, by the court below, we opine that the same are excessive. While the filing of this unfounded suit must have wounded said defendants' feelings and caused them anxiety, the same could in no way have seriously injured their reputation, or otherwise prejudiced them, lawsuits having become a common occurrence in present society. What is important, and has been correctly established in the decision of the court below, is that said defendants were not guilty of any improper conduct in the whole deplorable affair. This Court, therefore, reduces the damages awarded to P5,000 only.

Summing up, the Court rules:

(1) That a foreign divorce between Filipino citizens, sought and decreed after the effectivity of the present Civil Code (Rep. Act 386), is not entitled to recognition as valid in this jurisdiction; and neither is the marriage contracted with another party by the divorced consort, subsequently to the foreign decree of divorce, entitled to validity in the country;

(2) That the remarriage of divorced wife and her co-habitation with a person other than the lawful husband entitle the latter to a decree of legal separation conformably to Philippine law;

(3) That the desertion and securing of an invalid divorce decree by one consort entitles the other to recover damages;

(4) That an action for alienation of affections against the parents of one consort does not lie in the absence of proof of malice or unworthy motives on their part.

WHEREFORE, the decision under appeal is hereby modified as follows;

(1) Adjudging plaintiff-appellant Pastor Tenchavez entitled to a decree of legal separation from defendant Vicenta F. Escaño;

(2) Sentencing defendant-appellee Vicenta Escaño to pay plaintiff-appellant Tenchavez the amount of P25,000 for damages and attorneys' fees;

(3) Sentencing appellant Pastor Tenchavez to pay the appellee, Mamerto Escaño and the estate of his wife, the deceased Mena Escaño, P5,000 by way of damages and attorneys' fees.

Neither party to recover costs.

Bengzon, C.J., Bautista Angelo, Concepcion, Dizon, Regala, Makalintal, Bengzon, J.P. and Zaldivar, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 The latter was substituted by her heirs when she died during the pendency of the case in the trial court.

2 The original complaint included the Roman Catholic Church as a defendant, sought to be enjoined from acting on a petition for the ecclesiastical annulment of the marriage between Pastor Tenchavez and Vicenta Escaño; the case against the defendant Church was dismissed on a joint motion.

3 In the present Civil Code the contrary rule obtains (Art. 53).

4 She was naturalized as an American citizen only on 8 August 1958.


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