Court/Judicial body: Supreme Court of the Philippines
Date: 31 August 2005 CRC
Provisions: Article 3: Best interests of the child
Domestic provisions: Article 164 of the Family Code: A child who is conceived or born during the marriage of his parents is legitimate. Article 167 of the Family Code: The child shall be considered legitimate although the mother may have declared against its legitimacy or may have been sentenced as an adulteress.
Background: The petitioner obtained an order to annul his marriage to the respondent because she was still legally married to another man from an earlier marriage. As a consequence, their child was declared illegitimate and custody was granted to the respondent with visitation rights for the petitioner by the court of first instance. In the current case, the respondent asked the Court to make an order to limit the petitioner’s visitation rights since the law did not provide rights for the father of an illegitimate child. The respondent also asked the court to change the child’s surname to her maiden name, following the rule that an illegitimate child shall bear the mother’s surname. Although the trial court rejected both applications, at the next instance, the Court of Appeal held that the petitioner has no rights in relation to the child because, since the respondent was legally married to her first husband when the child was born, the child was therefore the legal child of the first husband rather than the petitioner and cannot be deemed an illegitimate child of the petitioner under a non-existent marriage. The decision at hand is the petitioner’s appeal to the Supreme Court, which is the court of last instance.
Issue and resolution: The definition of legitimacy under the law and whether the child concerned was legitimate or illegitimate. The Supreme Court held that the child was legitimate and addressed various legal presumptions that exist to serve the best interests of a child.
Court reasoning: The Court said that the law requires that every reasonable presumption be made in favour of legitimacy. The presumption of legitimacy is based on the broad principles of natural justice and the supposed virtue of the mother; it is also grounded on the policy to protect the innocent offspring from the stigmas of illegitimacy. The Court held that as the respondent was still legally married to her first husband, it is the first husband or the respondent who can contest the legitimacy of the child. The petitioner has no standing to do so in light of the fact that his marriage to the respondent was void from the beginning and is deemed to have never existed. The child is, therefore, legitimate in the eyes of the law and it is in his best interests that his legitimacy is upheld as he has been the victim of needless and senseless bickering and controversy generated by the petitioner and respondent since his infancy. Lastly, the Court also said that public policy demands that there be no compromise on the status and filiation of a child. Otherwise, the child will be at the mercy of those who may be so minded to exploit his defenselessness.
Excerpt citing CRC and other relevant human rights The child, by reason of his mental and physical immaturity, needs special safeguard and care, including appropriate legal protection before as well as after birth. In case of assault on his rights by those who take advantage of his innocence and vulnerability, the law will rise in his defense with the single-minded purpose of upholding only his best interests. Our laws seek to promote the welfare of the child. Article 8 of PD 603, otherwise known as the Child and Youth Welfare Code, is clear and unequivocal: Article 8. Child’s Welfare Paramount. – In all questions regarding the care, custody, education and property of the child, his welfare shall be the paramount consideration. Article 3 (1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child of which the Philippines is a signatory is similarly emphatic: In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
CRIN comments: CRIN believes this decision is inconsistent with the CRC. Article 2 of the Convention prohibits any discrimination against children based on their parent’s status, which includes marital status. Furthermore, denying the biological father of a child an opportunity to ask the courts to recognise his paternity, has a direct impact on the child’s right to preserve his or her family relations under Article 8 CRC and the right to maintain contact with both parents if separated under Article 9 CRC, which the Court in this case failed to assess.
Citation:  PHSC 944
Link to full judgement: http://www.worldlii.org/cgi-bin/sinodisp/ph/cases/PHSC/2005/944.html