G.R. No. 158298 : August 11, 2010
ISIDRO ABLAZA, Petitioner, v. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Whether a person may bring an action for the declaration of the absolute nullity of the marriage of his deceased brother solemnized under the regime of the old Civil Code is the legal issue to be determined in this appeal brought by the petitioner whose action for that purpose has been dismissed by the lower courts on the ground that he, not being a party in the assailed marriage, had no right to bring the action.
On October 17, 2000, the petitioner filed in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Cataingan, Masbate a petition for the declaration of the absolute nullity of the marriage contracted on December 26, 1949 between his late brother Cresenciano Ablaza and Leonila Honato.1cra1aw The case was docketed as Special Case No. 117 entitled In Re: Petition for Nullification of Marriage Contract between Cresenciano Ablaza and Leonila Honato; Isidro Ablaza, petitioner.
The petitioner alleged that the marriage between Cresenciano and Leonila had been celebrated without a marriage license, due to such license being issued only on January 9, 1950, thereby rendering the marriage void ab initio for having been solemnized without a marriage license. He insisted that his being the surviving brother of Cresenciano who had died without any issue entitled him to one-half of the real properties acquired by Cresenciano before his death, thereby making him a real party in interest; and that any person, himself included, could impugn the validity of the marriage between Cresenciano and Leonila at any time, even after the death of Cresenciano, due to the marriage being void ab initio.2cra1aw
Ruling of the RTC
On October 18, 2000, 3cra1aw the RTC dismissed the petition, stating:chan robles virtual law library
The petitioner seasonably filed a motion for reconsideration, but the RTC denied the motion for reconsideration on November 14, 2000.
Ruling of the Court of Appeals
The petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA), assigning the lone error that:chan robles virtual law library
In its decision dated January 30, 2003,4cra1aw however, the CA affirmed the dismissal order of the RTC, thus:chan robles virtual law library
Hence, this appeal.
The petitioner raises the following issues:chan robles virtual law library
The issues, rephrased, boil down to whether the petitioner is a real party in interest in the action to seek the declaration of nullity of the marriage of his deceased brother.
The petition is meritorious.
A valid marriage is essential in order to create the relation of husband and wife and to give rise to the mutual rights, duties, and liabilities arising out of such relation. The law prescribes the requisites of a valid marriage. Hence, the validity of a marriage is tested according to the law in force at the time the marriage is contracted.6cra1aw As a general rule, the nature of the marriage already celebrated cannot be changed by a subsequent amendment of the governing law.7cra1aw To illustrate, a marriage between a stepbrother and a stepsister was void under the Civil Code, but is not anymore prohibited under the Family Code; yet, the intervening effectivity of the Family Code does not affect the void nature of a marriage between a stepbrother and a stepsister solemnized under the regime of the Civil Code. The Civil Code marriage remains void, considering that the validity of a marriage is governed by the law in force at the time of the marriage ceremony.8cra1aw
Before anything more, the Court has to clarify the impact to the issue posed herein of Administrative Matter (A.M.) No. 02-11-10-SC (Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages), which took effect on March 15, 2003.
Section 2, paragraph (a), of A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC explicitly provides the limitation that a petition for declaration of absolute nullity of void marriage may be filed solely by the husband or wife. Such limitation demarcates a line to distinguish between marriages covered by the Family Code and those solemnized under the regime of the Civil Code.9cra1aw Specifically, A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC extends only to marriages covered by the Family Code, which took effect on August 3, 1988, but, being a procedural rule that is prospective in application, is confined only to proceedings commenced after March 15, 2003.10cra1aw
Based on Carlos v. Sandoval,11cra1aw the following actions for declaration of absolute nullity of a marriage are excepted from the limitation, to wit:chan robles virtual law library
Considering that the marriage between Cresenciano and Leonila was contracted on December 26, 1949, the applicable law was the old Civil Code, the law in effect at the time of the celebration of the marriage. Hence, the rule on the exclusivity of the parties to the marriage as having the right to initiate the action for declaration of nullity of the marriage under A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC had absolutely no application to the petitioner.
The old and new Civil Codes contain no provision on who can file a petition to declare the nullity of a marriage, and when. Accordingly, in Niñal v. Bayadog,12cra1awthe children were allowed to file after the death of their father a petition for the declaration of the nullity of their father's marriage to their stepmother contracted on December 11, 1986 due to lack of a marriage license. There, the Court distinguished between a void marriage and a voidable one, and explained how and when each might be impugned, thuswise:chan robles virtual law library
Jurisprudence under the Civil Code states that no judicial decree is necessary in order to establish the nullity of a marriage. "A void marriage does not require a judicial decree to restore the parties to their original rights or to make the marriage void but though no sentence of avoidance be absolutely necessary, yet as well for the sake of good order of society as for the peace of mind of all concerned, it is expedient that the nullity of the marriage should be ascertained and declared by the decree of a court of competent jurisdiction." "Under ordinary circumstances, the effect of a void marriage, so far as concerns the conferring of legal rights upon the parties, is as though no marriage had ever taken place. And therefore, being good for no legal purpose, its invalidity can be maintained in any proceeding in which the fact of marriage may be material, either direct or collateral, in any civil court between any parties at any time, whether before or after the death of either or both the husband and the wife, and upon mere proof of the facts rendering such marriage void, it will be disregarded or treated as non-existent by the courts." It is not like a voidable marriage which cannot be collaterally attacked except in direct proceeding instituted during the lifetime of the parties so that on the death of either, the marriage cannot be impeached, and is made good ab initio. But Article 40 of the Family Code expressly provides that there must be a judicial declaration of the nullity of a previous marriage, though void, before a party can enter into a second marriage and such absolute nullity can be based only on a final judgment to that effect. For the same reason, the law makes either the action or defense for the declaration of absolute nullity of marriage imprescriptible. Corollarily, if the death of either party would extinguish the cause of action or the ground for defense, then the same cannot be considered imprescriptible.
However, other than for purposes of remarriage, no judicial action is necessary to declare a marriage an absolute nullity. For other purposes, such as but not limited to determination of heirship, legitimacy or illegitimacy of a child, settlement of estate, dissolution of property regime, or a criminal case for that matter, the court may pass upon the validity of marriage even in a suit not directly instituted to question the same so long as it is essential to the determination of the case. This is without prejudice to any issue that may arise in the case. When such need arises, a final judgment of declaration of nullity is necessary even if the purpose is other than to remarry. The clause "on the basis of a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void" in Article 40 of the Family Code connotes that such final judgment need not be obtained only for purpose of remarriage.13cra1aw
It is clarified, however, that the absence of a provision in the old and new Civil Codes cannot be construed as giving a license to just any person to bring an action to declare the absolute nullity of a marriage. According to Carlos v. Sandoval,14cra1aw the plaintiff must still be the party who stands to be benefited by the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of the suit, for it is basic in procedural law that every action must be prosecuted and defended in the name of the real party in interest.15cra1aw Thus, only the party who can demonstrate a "proper interest" can file the action.16cra1aw Interest within the meaning of the rule means material interest, or an interest in issue to be affected by the decree or judgment of the case, as distinguished from mere curiosity about the question involved or a mere incidental interest. One having no material interest to protect cannot invoke the jurisdiction of the court as plaintiff in an action. When the plaintiff is not the real party in interest, the case is dismissible on the ground of lack of cause of action.17cra1aw
Here, the petitioner alleged himself to be the late Cresenciano's brother and surviving heir. Assuming that the petitioner was as he claimed himself to be, then he has a material interest in the estate of Cresenciano that will be adversely affected by any judgment in the suit. Indeed, a brother like the petitioner, albeit not a compulsory heir under the laws of succession, has the right to succeed to the estate of a deceased brother under the conditions stated in Article 1001 and Article 1003 of the Civil Code, as follows:chan robles virtual law library
Pursuant to these provisions, the presence of descendants, ascendants, or illegitimate children of the deceased excludes collateral relatives like the petitioner from succeeding to the deceased's estate.18cra1aw Necessarily, therefore, the right of the petitioner to bring the action hinges upon a prior determination of whether Cresenciano had any descendants, ascendants, or children (legitimate or illegitimate), and of whether the petitioner was the late Cresenciano's surviving heir. Such prior determination must be made by the trial court, for the inquiry thereon involves questions of fact.
As can be seen, both the RTC and the CA erroneously resolved the issue presented in this case. We reverse their error, in order that the substantial right of the petitioner, if any, may not be prejudiced.
Nevertheless, we note that the petitioner did not implead Leonila, who, as the late Cresenciano's surviving wife,19cra1aw stood to be benefited or prejudiced by the nullification of her own marriage. It is relevant to observe, moreover, that not all marriages celebrated under the old Civil Code required
a marriage license for their validity;20cra1aw hence, her participation in this action is made all the more necessary in order to shed light on whether the marriage had been celebrated without a marriage license and whether the marriage might have been a marriage excepted from the requirement of a marriage license. She was truly an indispensable party who must be joined herein:chan robles virtual law library
We take note, too, that the petitioner and Leonila were parties in C.A.-G.R. CV No. 91025 entitled Heirs of Cresenciano Ablaza, namely: Leonila G. Ablaza and Leila Ablaza Jasul v. Spouses Isidro and Casilda Ablaza, an action to determine who between the parties were the legal owners of the property involved therein. Apparently, C.A.-G.R. CV No. 91025 was decided on November 26, 2009, and the petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied on June 23, 2010. As a defendant in that action, the petitioner is reasonably presumed to have knowledge that the therein plaintiffs, Leonila and Leila, were the wife and daughter, respectively, of the late Cresenciano. As such, Leila was another indispensable party whose substantial right any judgment in this action will definitely affect. The petitioner should likewise implead Leila.
The omission to implead Leonila and Leila was not immediately fatal to the present action, however, considering that Section 11,22cra1aw Rule 3, Rules of Court, states that neither misjoinder nor non-joinder of parties is a ground for the dismissal of an action. The petitioner can still amend his initiatory pleading in order to implead her, for under the same rule, such amendment to implead an indispensable party may be made "on motion of any party or on (the trial court's) own initiative at any stage of the action and on such terms as are just."
WHEREFORE, the petition for review on certiorari is granted.
We reverse and set aside the decision dated January 30, 2003 rendered by the Court of Appeals.
Special Case No. 117 entitled In Re: Petition for Nullification of Marriage Contract between Cresenciano Ablaza and Leonila Honato; Isidro Ablaza, petitioner, is reinstated, and its records are returned to the Regional Trial Court, Branch 49, in Cataingan, Masbate, for further proceedings, with instructions to first require the petitioner to amend his initiatory pleading in order to implead Leonila Honato and her daughter Leila Ablaza Jasulas parties-defendants; then to determine whether the late Cresenciano Ablaza had any ascendants, descendants, or children (legitimate or illegitimate) at the time of his death as well as whether the petitioner was the brother and surviving heir of the late Cresenciano Ablaza entitled to succeed to the estate of said deceased; and thereafter to proceed accordingly.
No costs of suit.
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
WE CONCUR:chan robles virtual law library
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson's Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.
RENATO C. CORONA
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