REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, Petitioner, v. GLADYS C. LABRADOR, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Summary proceedings provided under Rule 108 of the Rules of Court and Article 412 of the Civil Code may be used only to correct clerical, spelling, typographical and other innocuous errors in the civil registry. Substantial or contentious alterations may be allowed only in adversarial proceedings, in which all interested parties are impleaded and due process is observed.
Before us is a Petition for Review on certiorari seeking to set aside the March 5, 1998 Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City in Special Proceedings No. 6861-CEB.1 The assailed Decision2 ordered the civil registrar of Cebu City to make the necessary corrections in the birth certificate of Sarah Zita Caon Erasmo in the local civil registry, viz.:
"WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered granting the petition. Accordingly, the erroneous entry with respect to the name of [the] child appearing in the birth certificate of Sarah Zita Caon Erasmo is hereby ordered corrected from SARAH ZITA CAON ERASMO to SARAH ZITA CAON and the erroneous entry in said birth certificate with respect to the name of [the] mother is likewise hereby ordered corrected from ROSEMARIE B. CAON to MARIA ROSARIO CAON.
"The Local Civil Registrar of Cebu City is hereby ordered to make the foregoing corrections in the birth records of SARAH ZITA CAON ERASMO and to issue a birth certificate reflecting said corrections.
"Furnish a copy of this Decision to the petitioner, her counsel, the Solicitor General, Asst. City Prosecutor Generosa C. Labra and the Local Civil Registrar of Cebu City."
Disagreeing with the above disposition, the solicitor general brought this Petition directly to this Court on a pure question of law.3
Respondent Gladys C. Labrador filed with the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City on September 26, 1997, a Petition for the correction of entries in the record of birth of Sarah Zita Erasmo, her niece. In her Petition, respondent alleged the following:
"1. Petitioner is of legal age, married, a resident of 493-17, Archbishop Reyes Ave., Barrio Luz, Cebu City, where she can be served with the processes of this Honorable Court;
"2. Respondent Local Civil Registrar of Cebu City is impleaded herein in his official capacity; he can be served with summons and other processes of this Honorable Court in his office at the City Health Department, Cebu City;
"3. Petitioner is the sister of Maria Rosario Caon who is presently residing in the United States of America;
"4. Sometime in 1986, petitioner's sister, Maria Rosario Caon, had a common law relationship with a certain Degoberto Erasmo, and during such cohabitation, petitioner's sister begot two (2) illegitimate children, one of which is SARAH ZITA B. ERASMO, who was born on April 27, 1988, as shown in her birth certificate, a copy of which is hereto attached as ANNEX "A";
"5. During the registration of the birth of SARAH ZITA, petitioner's sister told the respondent Local Civil Registrar that she was not legally married to the father of SARAH ZITA;
"6. However, herein respondent erroneously entered the name of Sarah Zita in her birth record as SARAH ZITA C. ERASMO, instead of SARAH ZITA CAON. Not only that, the name of petitioner's sister, being the mother, was also erroneously written by the herein respondent as Rosemarie Caon, instead of Maria Rosario Caon,
"7. In order to straighten the record of birth of SARAH ZITA ERASMO and pursuant to Article 176 of the Family Code which provides:
Art. 176. Illegitimate children shall use the surname and shall be under the parental authority of the mother xxx
[t]here is a need to correct the entry in the record of birth of SARAH ZITA ERASMO to SARAH ZITA CAON and to correct the name of her mother as appearing in her birth certificate from ROSEMARIE CAON to MARIA ROSARIO CAON.
xxx xxx xxx"4cräläwvirtualibräry
On September 17, 1997, the trial court set the case for hearing on October 29, 1997. It also directed the publication of the notice of hearing in a newspaper of general circulation in Cebu City once a week for three consecutive weeks.5cräläwvirtualibräry
On October 29, 1997, evidence was presented to establish the jurisdiction of the trial court to hear the petition.6 Respondent Labrador was represented by Atty. Bienvenido V. Baring; the Republic, by Assistant City Prosecutor Generosa C. Labra.
When Respondent Labrador testified on January 8, 1998, she repeated the allegations in her Petition. She stated that Sarah Zita Erasmo was her niece because Maria Rosario Caon, the mother of the child, was her (respondent's) sister. On cross-examination, respondent explained that she was the one who had reported the birth of Sarah to the local civil registrar, to whom she had erroneously given "Rosemarie" as the first name of the child's mother, instead of the real one, "Maria Rosario." Labrador explained that her sister was more familiarly known as Rosemarie; thus, the error. Respondent likewise averred that Rosemarie and Maria Rosario were one and the same person, and that she had no other sister named Rosemarie. She added that Maria Rosario was abroad where she lived with her foreigner husband.7
Labrador then formally offered her evidence which included Maria Rosario's birth certificate8 and a certification from the Office of the Civil Registrar that it had no record of marriage between Maria Rosario Caon and Degoberto Erasmo.9 Prosecutor Labra, who conducted the cross-examination, did not object to the evidence offered.
The Trial Court's Ruling
The trial court granted Respondent Labrador's Petition, ratiocinating as follows:
"From the evidence adduced, the Court is convinced that the allegations in the petition have been satisfactorily substantiated, the requisites for the publication have been complied with, and there is a need for the correction of the erroneous entries in the birth certificate of Sarah Zita Caon Erasmo. The entry in said birth certificate with respect to the name of the child should be corrected from SARAH ZITA CAON ERASMO to SARAH ZITA CAON and the entry with respect to the name of the mother should be corrected from ROSEMARIE B. CAON to MARIA ROSARIO CAON."
Petitioner posits the following issues:
"(a) Whether or not a change in the record of birth in a civil registry, which affects the civil status of a person, from legitimate to illegitimate may be granted in a summary proceeding;
(b) Whether or not Rule 108 of the Revised Rules of Court is the proper action to impugn the legitimacy of a child.
The main issue is whether Rule 108 of the Rules of Court may be used to changed the entry in a birth certificate regarding the filiation of a child.
The Courts Ruling
The petition is meritorious. The lower court erred in ordering the corrections.
Main Issue: Rule 108 Inapplicable
Petitioner contends that the summary proceedings under Rule 108 of the Rules of court and Article 412 of the Civil Code may be used only to correct or change clerical or innocuous errors. It argues that Rule 108 "cannot be used to modify, alter or increase substantive rights, such as those involving the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the child, which respondent desires to do. The change sought will result not only in substantial correction in the child's record of birth but also in the child's rights which cannot be effected in a summary action."10 We Agree.
This issue has been resolved in Leonor v. Court of Appeals.11 In that case, Respondent Mauricio Leonor filed a petition before the trial court seeking the cancellation of the registration of his marriage to Petitioner Virginia Leonor. He alleged, among others, the nullity of their legal vows arising from the "non-observance of the legal requirements for a valid marriage." In debunking the trial court's ruling granting such petition, the Court held as follows:
"On its face, the Rule would appear to authorize the cancellation of any entry regarding "marriages" in the civil registry for any reason by the mere filing of a verified petition for the purpose. However, it is not as simple as it looks. Doctrinally, the only errors that can be canceled or corrected under this Rule are typographical or clerical errors, not material or substantial ones like the validity or nullity of a marriage. A clerical error is one which is visible to the eyes or obvious to the understanding; error made by a clerk or a transcriber; a mistake in copying or writing (Black vs. Republic, L-10869, Nov. 28, 1958); or some harmless and innocuous change such as a correction of name that is clearly misspelled or of a mis-statement of the occupation of the parent (Ansalada vs. Republic, L-10226, Feb. 14, 1958).
"Where the effect of a correction in a civil registry will change the civil status of petitioner and her children from legitimate to illegitimate, the same cannot be granted except only in an adversarial proceeding. xxx
"Clearly and unequivocally, the summary procedure under Rule 108, and for that matter under Article 412 of the Civil Code cannot be used by Mauricio to change his and Virginia's civil status from married to single and of their three children from legitimate to illegitimate. xxx" (Emphasis supplied.)
Thus, where the effect of a correction of an entry in a civil registry will change the status of a person from "legitimate" to "illegitimate," as in Sarah Zita's case, the same cannot be granted in summary proceedings.
In Republic v. Valencia,12 we likewise held that corrections involving the nationality or citizenship of a person were substantial and could not be effected except in adversarial proceedings.
"It is undoubtedly true that if the subject matter of a petition is not for the correction of clerical errors of a harmless and innocuous nature, but one involving the nationality or citizenship, which is indisputably substantial as well as controverted, affirmative relief cannot be granted in a proceeding summary in nature. However, it is also true that a right in law may be enforced and a wrong may be remedied as long as the appropriate remedy is used. This Court adheres to the principle that even substantial errors in a civil registry may be corrected and the true facts established provided the parties aggrieved by the error avail themselves of the appropriate adversary proceeding.
xxx xxx xxx
"What is meant by 'appropriate adversary proceeding?' Black's Law Dictionary defines 'adversary proceeding' as follows:
'One having opposing parties, contested, as distinguished from an ex parte application, one [in] which the party seeking relief has given legal warning to the other party, and afforded the latter an opportunity to contest it. Excludes an adoption proceeding. (Platt v. Magagnini, 187 p.716, 718, 11 0 Was. 39)'.
xxx xxx xxx"13cräläwvirtualibräry
Thus, Valencia requires that a petition for a substantial correction or change of entries in the civil registry should have as respondents the civil registrar, as well as all other persons who have or claim to have any interest that would be affected thereby. It further mandates that a full hearing, not merely a summary proceeding, be conducted.
In the present case, the changes sought by Respondent Labrador were undoubtedly substantial: first, she sought to have the name appearing on the birth certificate changed from "Sarah Zita Erasmo" to "Sarah Zita Caon, thereby transforming the filiation of the child from legitimate to illegitimate. Second, she likewise sought to have the name of Sarah Zita's mother, which appeared as "Rosemarie" in the child's birth record, changed to "Maria Rosario." Pursuant to Valencia, an adversarial proceeding is essential in order to fully thresh out the allegations in respondent's petition.
Sarah Zita and her purported parents should have been parties to the proceeding. After all, it would affect her legitimacy, as well as her successional and other rights. In fact, the change may also embarrass her because of the social stigma that illegitimacy may bring. The rights of her parents over her and over each other would also be affected. Furthermore, a change of name would affect not only the mother but possibly creditors, if any. Finally, no sufficient legal explanation has been given why an aunt, who had no appointment as guardian of the minor, was the party-petitioner.
True, it would seem that an adversarial proceeding was conducted -- the trial court set the case for hearing and had the notice of hearing published in a newspaper of general circulation in Cebu City once a week for three consecutive weeks; a hearing was actually conducted, during which the respondent and the petitioner were represented: the respondent was able to testify and be cross-examined by the petitioner's representative.
But such proceeding does not suffice. In Labayo-Rowe v. Republic,14 Emperatriz Labayo-Rowe filed a petition seeking to change an entry in her child Victoria Miclats birth certificate. Alleging that she had never been married to her daughters father, she wanted her civil status appearing on the certificate changed from married to single. This Court ruled that the trial court erred in granting Labayo-Rowes petition, because the proper parties had not been impleaded; nor had the proceedings been sufficiently adversarial, viz.:
In the case before Us, since only the Office of the Solicitor General was notified through the Office of the Provincial Fiscal, representing the Republic of the Philippines as the only respondent, the proceedings taken, which [are] summary in nature, [are] short of what is required in cases where substantial alterations are sought. Aside from the Office of the Solicitor General, all other indispensable parties should have been made respondents. They include not only the declared father of the child but the child as well, together with the paternal grandparents, if any, as their hereditary rights would be adversely affected thereby. All other persons who may be affected by the change should be notified or represented. The truth is best ascertained under an adversary system of justice.
The right of the child Victoria to inherit from her parents would be substantially impaired if her status would be changed from legitimate to illegitimate. Moreover, she would be exposed to humiliation and embarrassment resulting from the stigma of an illegitimate filiation that she will bear thereafter. The fact that the notice of hearing of the petition was published in a newspaper of general circulation and notice thereof was served upon the State will not change the nature of the proceedings taken. Rule 108, like all other provisions of the Rules of Court, was promulgated by the Supreme Court pursuant to its rule-making authority under Section 13, Article VIII of the 1973 Constitution, which directs that such rules 'shall not diminish, increase or modify substantive rights.' Said rule would thereby become an unconstitutional exercise which would tend to increase or modify substantive rights. This situation is not contemplated under Article 412 of the Civil Code.
xxx xxx xxx"15cräläwvirtualibräry
Even granting that the proceedings held to hear and resolve the petition before the lower court were adversarial, it must be noted that the evidence presented by the respondent was not enough to fully substantiate her claim that Sarah Zita was illegitimate. Her evidence consisted mainly of her testimony and a certification from the civil registry of Cebu City that such office had no record of a marriage between Rosemarie/Maria Rosario Caon and Degoberto Erasmo. Unlike in other cases where Valencia was applied,16 Respondent Labrador was not able to prove the allegations in her petition.
Indeed, respondent correctly cites Article 176 of the Family Code, which states that "illegitimate children shall use the surname[s] xxx of their mothers." But to enforce such provision, the proper recourse is an adversarial contest. It must be stressed that Rule 108 does not contemplate an ordinary civil action but a special proceeding. By its nature, this recourse seeks merely to correct clerical errors, and not to grant or deny substantial rights. To hold otherwise is tantamount to a denial of due process to third parties and the whole world.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby GRANTED. The assailed Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Cebu City in SP. Proc. No. 6861-CEB is hereby ANNULLED and SET ASIDE. No costs.
Let a copy of this Decision be served upon the local civil registrar of Cebu City.
Romero, (Chairman), Vitug, Purisima, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.
1 Entitled In the Matter of the Petition for Correction of Entry in the Record of Birth of Sarah Zita C. Erasmo, Gladys C. Labrador v. The Local Registrar of Cebu City.
2 Penned by Judge Jose P. Soberano Jr.
3 The case was deemed submitted for decision on November 24, 1998, upon receipt by the Court of petitioners Memorandum. Respondent Labradors Memorandum was received earlier, on November 17, 1998.
4 Rollo, pp. 22-23.
5 Ibid., p. 18.
6 Ibid., pp. 18-19. The following exhibits were admitted:
EXHIBIT A- Petition
B- Order dated September 17, 1997
C- Notice of Order
D- Affidavit of Publication
D-1, D-2, and D-3 newspaper clippings.
7 Ibid., p. 19.
8 Ibid., p. 35.
9 Ibid., p. 34
10 Petition, p. 7; rollo, p. 13.
11 256 SCRA 69, April 2, 1996, per Panganiban, J.
12 141 SCRA 462, March 5, 1986, per Gutierrez, J. In this case, the trial court granted Respondent Leonor Valencias petition for the cancellation and/or correction of the entries in the birth records of her two minor children. Thus, the nationality of Valencias children was changed from Chinese to Filipino; their status from legitimate to illegitimate; and Valencias status from married to single.
14 168 SCRA 294, December 8, 1988, per Gancayco, J.
15 Ibid., pp. 301-302.
16 For example, in Republic v. Bautista, 155 SCRA 1, October 26, 1987, Respondent Imelda Mangabat Sorensen sought to correct and change the word American to Danish in the Birth Certificate of her minor son, Raymund, to reflect the true nationality of his father, Bo Huage Sorensen. To prove her claim, she presented her husband as a witness. He testified that he was Danish; presented a certification from the Royal Danish Consulate to prove this claim; and maintained that he was married to Imelda, and that in the birth certificate of their first child, his nationality as Danish was correctly stated. Likewise, in Republic v. Carriaga, 159 SCRA 12, March 18, 1988, the Court upheld the trial courts assessment that Respondent Tan Lim, who sought the correction of entries in the birth records of his children, was able to prove his claims through testimonial and documentary evidence. See also Republic v. Sayo, 188 SCRA 634, August 20, 1990.