Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Questioning the legitimacy of a child, simulation of birth, cancellation of birth certificates

ChristianPhotos.Net - Free High Resolution Photos for Christian PublicationsThe Family Code establishes the legitimacy of a child born during a marriage. Thus, Articles 164 and 167 provide that:

Art. 164. Children conceived or born during the marriage of the parents are legitimate.

Children conceived as a result of artificial insemination of the wife with the sperm of the husband or that of a donor or both are likewise legitimate children of the husband and his wife, provided, that both of them authorized or ratified such insemination in a written instrument executed and signed by them before the birth of the child. The instrument shall be recorded in the civil registry together with the birth certificate of the child.

Art. 167. The child shall be considered legitimate although the mother may have declared against its legitimacy or may have been sentenced as an adulteress.
Grounds for questioning the legitimacy of a child

Article 166 of the Family Code provides for the grounds for impugning (questioning) the legitimacy of a child:
Art. 166. Legitimacy of a child may be impugned only on the following grounds:

(1) That it was physically impossible for the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife within the first 120 days of the 300 days which immediately preceded the birth of the child because of:

(a) the physical incapacity of the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife;

(b) the fact that the husband and wife were living separately in such a way that sexual intercourse was not possible; or

(c) serious illness of the husband, which absolutely prevented sexual intercourse;

(2) That it is proved that for biological or other scientific reasons, the child could not have been that of the husband, except in the instance provided in the second paragraph of Article 164; or

(3) That in case of children conceived through artificial insemination, the written authorization or ratification of either parent was obtained through mistake, fraud, violence, intimidation, or undue influence.
Periods within which to question the legitimacy of a child; who may question legitimacy

Articles 170 and 171 provide for the periods within which the court action for questioning the legitimacy of a child should be filed and the parties who can file such action:
Art. 170. The action to impugn the legitimacy of the child shall be brought within one year from the knowledge of the birth or its recording in the civil register, if the husband or, in a proper case, any of his heirs, should reside in the city or municipality where the birth took place or was recorded.

If the husband or, in his default, all of his heirs do not reside at the place of birth as defined in the first paragraph or where it was recorded, the period shall be two years if they should reside in the Philippines; and three years if abroad. If the birth of the child has been concealed from or was unknown to the husband or his heirs, the period shall be counted from the discovery or knowledge of the birth of the child or of the fact of registration of said birth, whichever is earlier.

Art. 171. The heirs of the husband may impugn the filiation of the child within the period prescribed in the preceding article only in the following cases:

(1) If the husband should die before the expiration of the period fixed for bringing his action;

(2) If he should die after the filing of the complaint without having desisted therefrom; or

(3) If the child was born after the death of the husband.
Can the action to question the legitimacy of a child be filed beyond the periods provided by Article 170?

This question was raised in the 2000 case of “Teofista Babiera, petitioner, vs. Presentacion B. Catotal, respondent.” The Supreme Court clarified that:

[1] Articles 170 and 171 of the Family Code apply to instances in which the father impugns the legitimacy of his wife’s child. The provisions, however, presuppose that the child was the undisputed offspring of the mother.

These articles govern a situation where a husband (or his heirs) denies as his own a child of his wife. These articles do not contemplate a situation where a child is alleged not to be the child of nature or biological child of a certain couple.

[2] A birth certificate may be ordered cancelled upon adequate proof that it is fictitious. Thus, void is a certificate which shows that the mother was already fifty-four years old at the time of the child's birth and which was signed neither by the civil registrar nor by the supposed mother. Because her inheritance rights are adversely affected, the legitimate child of such mother is a proper party in the proceedings for the cancellation of the said certificate.

Facts of the case

Briefly, Presentacion B. Catotal (or Presentacion, for brevity) questioned the authenticity of the birth certificate of Teofista Babiera (Teofista for brevity) as to the identity of her biological parents, Eugenio and Hermogena Babiera. Presentacion claimed that Teofista, instead of being her biological sister, was actually the child of a house helper who made it appear in the birth certificate that Teofista was the Babiera couple’s offspring.

Presentacion claimed that the birth certificate of Teofista Guinto was void ab initio, as it was totally a simulated birth, the signature of informant forged, and it contained false entries, to wit:

(a) The child is made to appear as the legitimate child of the late spouses Eugenio Babiera and Hermogena Cariñosa, when she is not;

(b) The signature of Hermogena Cariñosa, the mother, is falsified/forged. She was not the informant; (c) The family name BABIERA is false and unlawful and her correct family name is GUINTO, her mother being single;

(d) Her real mother was Flora Guinto and her status, an illegitimate child;

(e) The birth certificate was patently a simulation of birth, since it was clinically and medically impossible for the supposed parents to bear a child in 1956 because of the age of the alleged parents, Hermogena being 54 years old and the Eugenio being 65 years old.

Presentacion asked the court to declare the certificate of birth of Teofista as void, invalid and ineffective and for the cancellation of her birth certificate.

Teofista, on the other hand, countered that:

(1) Presentacion’s petition stated no cause of action, it being an attack on the legitimacy of the respondent as the child of the spouses Eugenio Babiera and Hermogena Cariñosa Babiera;

(2) Presentacion had no legal capacity to file the instant petition pursuant to Article 171 of the Family Code; and

(3) The petition was barred by prescription in accordance with Article 170 of the Family Code.

Teofista also presented her Certificate of Birth, Certificate of Baptism, and Student's Report Card which showed she and Presentacion were sisters of the full-blood, they being the offspring of spouses Eugenio Babiera and Hermogena C. Babiera.

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

The CA held that the evidence adduced during trial proved that Teofista was not the biological child of Hermogena Babiera. It also ruled that no evidence was presented to show that Hermogena became pregnant in 1959. It further observed that she was already 54 years old at the time, and that her last pregnancy had occurred way back in 1941. The CA noted that the supposed birth took place at home, notwithstanding the advanced age of Hermogena and its concomitant medical complications. Moreover, Teofista’s Birth Certificate was not signed by the local civil registrar, and the signature therein, which was purported to be that of Hermogena, was different from her other signatures.

The CA also deemed inapplicable Articles 170 and 171 of the Family Code, which stated that only the father could impugn the child's legitimacy, and that the same was not subject to a collateral attack. It held that said provisions contemplated a situation wherein the husband or his heirs asserted that the child of the wife was not his. In this case, the action involved the cancellation of the child’s Birth Certificate for being void ab initio on the ground that the child did not belong to either the father or the mother.

Ruling of the Supreme Court (excerpts)

The Court, in affirming the CA decision, explained that:

[1] Article 171 of the Family Code is not applicable to the present case. A close reading of this provision shows that it applies to instances in which the father impugns the legitimacy of his wife’s child. The provision, however, presupposes that the child was the undisputed offspring of the mother. The present case alleges and shows that Hermogena did not give birth to petitioner.

In other words, the prayer herein is not to declare that Teofista is an illegitimate child of Hermogena, but to establish that the former is not the latter's child at all. Verily, the present action does not impugn Teofista’s filiation to Spouses Eugenio and Hermogena Babiera, because there is no blood relation to impugn in the first place.

[2] Teofista contends that the action to contest her status as a child of the late Hermogena Babiera has already prescribed. She cites Article 170 of the Family Code which provides the prescriptive period for such action.

This argument is bereft of merit. The present action involves the cancellation of Teofista’s Birth Certificate; it does not impugn her legitimacy. Thus, the prescriptive period set forth in Article 170 of the Family Code does not apply. Verily, the action to nullify the Birth Certificate does not prescribe, because it was allegedly void ab initio.

[3] Teofista argues that the evidence presented, especially Hermogena’s testimony that petitioner was not her real child, cannot overcome the presumption of regularity in the issuance of the Birth Certificate.

While it is true that an official document such as petitioner’s Birth Certificate enjoys the presumption of regularity, the specific facts attendant in the case at bar, as well as the totality of the evidence presented during trial, sufficiently negate such presumption.

First, there were already irregularities regarding the Birth Certificate itself. It was not signed by the local civil registrar. More important, the Court of Appeals observed that the mother’s signature therein was different from her signatures in other documents presented during the trial.

Second, the circumstances surrounding the birth of petitioner show that Hermogena is not the former's real mother. For one, there is no evidence of Hermogena’s pregnancy, such as medical records and doctor’s prescriptions, other than the Birth Certificate itself. In fact, no witness was presented to attest to the pregnancy of Hermogena during that time. Moreover, at the time of her supposed birth, Hermogena was already 54 years old. Even if it were possible for her to have given birth at such a late age, it was highly suspicious that she did so in her own home, when her advanced age necessitated proper medical care normally available only in a hospital.

The most significant piece of evidence, however, is the deposition of Hermogena Babiera which states that she did not give birth to petitioner, and that the latter was not hers nor her husband Eugenio’s.

Relying merely on the assumption of validity of the Birth Certificate, Teofista has presented no other evidence other than the said document to show that she is really Hermogena’s child. Neither has she provided any reason why her supposed mother would make a deposition stating that the former was not the latter's child at all.

All in all, we find no reason to reverse or modify the factual finding of the trial and the appellate courts that Teofista was not the child of Eugenio and Hermogena Baviera.

Notes: The Supreme Court reiterated these rulings in the 2001 case of Lee et al vs. Court of Appeals et al.

The picture at the top of this post is from ChristianPhotos.Net (Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications).

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