The Family Code of the Philippines speaks of marriages that are void ab initio, that is, void or without any legal effect from the very beginning, subject to certain exceptions like the legitimacy of children, etc. Some people mistakenly believe that since their marriage is void from the very beginning, they can simply take the law into their own hands and get married again to other parties without resorting to legal procedures. (As I have noted in previous posts, legally speaking, a petition for annulment is for voidable marriages while declaration of nullity is for void marriages. The term "annulment" however is used by people on the street as a generic term referring both to void and voidable marriages.)
Some people, on the other hand, cannot wait until after the resolution of their petition for annulment and get married even while the case is pending in court. Still other people, when charged with bigamy, subsequently file a petition for annulment or declaration of nullity, thinking that if the first marriage is declared void, then the criminal case for bigamy no longer has any basis. In legal terms, the petition for annulment or declaration of nullity is used by the accused as defense in the bigamy case by claiming that such is a prejudicial question.
The Supreme Court has declared in several cases that a person commits bigamy if he or she gets married to another party while the first marriage is subsisting, even if such marriage is subsequently declared null and void. Thus, the Court ruled in Abunado vs. People, G.R. No. 159218, March 30, 2004, to wit,
The subsequent judicial declaration of the nullity of the first marriage was immaterial because prior to the declaration of nullity, the crime had already been consummated. Moreover, petitioner’s assertion would only delay the prosecution of bigamy cases considering that an accused could simply file a petition to declare his previous marriage void and invoke the pendency of that action as a prejudicial question in the criminal case. We cannot allow that.The Supreme Court discussed this issue of bigamy and subsequent declaration of nullity of marriage in the case of Tenebro vs. CA, G.R. No. 150758, February 18, 2004. Excerpts of this decision are posted below (emphasis by boldfacing supplied):
We are called on to decide the novel issue concerning the effect of the judicial declaration of the nullity of a second or subsequent marriage, on the ground of psychological incapacity, on an individual’s criminal liability for bigamy. We hold that the subsequent judicial declaration of nullity of marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity does not retroact to the date of the celebration of the marriage insofar as the Philippines’ penal laws are concerned. As such, an individual who contracts a second or subsequent marriage during the subsistence of a valid marriage is criminally liable for bigamy, notwithstanding the subsequent declaration that the second marriage is void ab initio on the ground of psychological incapacity.
Petitioner in this case, Veronico Tenebro, contracted marriage with private complainant Leticia Ancajas on April 10, 1990. The two were wed by Judge Alfredo B. Perez, Jr. of the City Trial Court of Lapu-lapu City. Tenebro and Ancajas lived together continuously and without interruption until the latter part of 1991, when Tenebro informed Ancajas that he had been previously married to a certain Hilda Villareyes on November 10, 1986. Tenebro showed Ancajas a photocopy of a marriage contract between him and Villareyes. Invoking this previous marriage, petitioner thereafter left the conjugal dwelling which he shared with Ancajas, stating that he was going to cohabit with Villareyes.
On January 25, 1993, petitioner contracted yet another marriage, this one with a certain Nilda Villegas, before Judge German Lee, Jr. of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City, Branch 15. When Ancajas learned of this third marriage, she verified from Villareyes whether the latter was indeed married to petitioner. In a handwritten letter, Villareyes confirmed that petitioner, Veronico Tenebro, was indeed her husband.
The second tier of petitioner’s defense hinges on the effects of the subsequent judicial declaration of the nullity of the second marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity.
Petitioner argues that this subsequent judicial declaration retroacts to the date of the celebration of the marriage to Ancajas. As such, he argues that, since his marriage to Ancajas was subsequently declared void ab initio, the crime of bigamy was not committed.
This argument is not impressed with merit.
Petitioner makes much of the judicial declaration of the nullity of the second marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity, invoking Article 36 of the Family Code. What petitioner fails to realize is that a declaration of the nullity of the second marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity is of absolutely no moment insofar as the State’s penal laws are concerned.
As a second or subsequent marriage contracted during the subsistence of petitioner’s valid marriage to Villareyes, petitioner’s marriage to Ancajas would be null and void ab initio completely regardless of petitioner’s psychological capacity or incapacity. Since a marriage contracted during the subsistence of a valid marriage is automatically void, the nullity of this second marriage is not per se an argument for the avoidance of criminal liability for bigamy. Pertinently, Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code criminalizes “any person who shall contract a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings”. A plain reading of the law, therefore, would indicate that the provision penalizes the mere act of contracting a second or a subsequent marriage during the subsistence of a valid marriage.
Thus, as soon as the second marriage to Ancajas was celebrated on April 10, 1990, during the subsistence of the valid first marriage, the crime of bigamy had already been consummated. To our mind, there is no cogent reason for distinguishing between a subsequent marriage that is null and void purely because it is a second or subsequent marriage, and a subsequent marriage that is null and void on the ground of psychological incapacity, at least insofar as criminal liability for bigamy is concerned. The State’s penal laws protecting the institution of marriage are in recognition of the sacrosanct character of this special contract between spouses, and punish an individual’s deliberate disregard of the permanent character of the special bond between spouses, which petitioner has undoubtedly done.
Moreover, the declaration of the nullity of the second marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity is not an indicator that petitioner’s marriage to Ancajas lacks the essential requisites for validity. The requisites for the validity of a marriage are classified by the Family Code into essential (legal capacity of the contracting parties and their consent freely given in the presence of the solemnizing officer) and formal (authority of the solemnizing officer, marriage license, and marriage ceremony wherein the parties personally declare their agreement to marry before the solemnizing officer in the presence of at least two witnesses). Under Article 5 of the Family Code, any male or female of the age of eighteen years or upwards not under any of the impediments mentioned in Articles 37 and 38 may contract marriage.
In this case, all the essential and formal requisites for the validity of marriage were satisfied by petitioner and Ancajas. Both were over eighteen years of age, and they voluntarily contracted the second marriage with the required license before Judge Alfredo B. Perez, Jr. of the City Trial Court of Lapu-lapu City, in the presence of at least two witnesses.
Although the judicial declaration of the nullity of a marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity retroacts to the date of the celebration of the marriage insofar as the vinculum between the spouses is concerned, it is significant to note that said marriage is not without legal effects. Among these effects is that children conceived or born before the judgment of absolute nullity of the marriage shall be considered legitimate. There is therefore a recognition written into the law itself that such a marriage, although void ab initio, may still produce legal consequences. Among these legal consequences is incurring criminal liability for bigamy. To hold otherwise would render the State’s penal laws on bigamy completely nugatory, and allow individuals to deliberately ensure that each marital contract be flawed in some manner, and to thus escape the consequences of contracting multiple marriages, while beguiling throngs of hapless women with the promise of futurity and commitment.
As a final point, we note that based on the evidence on record, petitioner contracted marriage a third time, while his marriages to Villareyes and Ancajas were both still subsisting. Although this is irrelevant in the determination of the accused’s guilt for purposes of this particular case, the act of the accused displays a deliberate disregard for the sanctity of marriage, and the State does not look kindly on such activities.Marriage is a special contract, the key characteristic of which is its permanence. When an individual manifests a deliberate pattern of flouting the foundation of the State’s basic social institution, the State’s criminal laws on bigamy step in.