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Isabelita S. Lahom, petitioner, v. Jose Melvin Sibulo (previously referred to as “Dr. Melvin S. Lahom”), respondent

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Court/Judicial body:  Supreme Court of the Philippines
Date: 14 July 2003 CRC
Provisions:  General reference (no specific Article cited)
International provisions: Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1924Universal Declaration of Human Rights UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child
Domestic provisions: Section 19 of Article VI, Domestic Adoption Act 1998: Grounds for Rescission of Adoption — Upon petition of the adoptee, the adoption may be rescinded on any of the following grounds committed by the adopter(s): (a) repeated physical and verbal maltreatment by the adopter(s) despite having undergone counseling; (b) attempt on the life of the adoptee; (c) sexual assault or violence; or (d) abandonment and failure to comply with parental obligations.

Case summary

Background: The petitioner had adopted her nephew when he was two years old. 17 years later, the petitioner commenced proceedings at a regional court to rescind the adoption because the adoptee refused to change his original surname to his adopters’ surname and because their relationships had deteriorated and her adopted son had been indifferent towards her, failed to show any care or concern and only visited her once a year. The petitioner therefore claimed that there was no prevailing familial relationship and for all purposes their legal relationship should also be annulled. The adoptee respondent opposed the petition to rescind the adoption. By the time of the petition, the law had been changed and the new law deleted the right of adopters to rescind an adoption. The new law states that only the adoptee may rescind an adoption for reasons of abuse or abandonment. The petitioner argued that new laws should not be applied retrospectively and that she still possess the right to rescind the adoption under the old law. The trial court rejected the petition on the basis that the new law had removed an adopter’s right to rescind an adoption. In addition, even if the petitioner had the right under the old law to rescind the adoption, such right had expired with the passage of time, as it needed to be exercised within five years. The current case is the petitioner’s appeal against the decision of the trial court.

Issue and resolution: Adoption. The Court had to decide whether an adoption can still be rescinded despite the change in the new law. It was held that the adoption cannot be rescinded.

Court reasoning: The Supreme Court agreed that since the old law was no longer in force, the petitioner did not have the right to rescind the adoption. Regardless, even under the old law, a five year rule applied and the petitioner’s rights would have expired since. It was further stated that matters relating to adoption, including the withdrawal of the right of an adopter to nullify the adoption are subject to the regulation by the state. The purpose of the time bar under the old law and the deletion of the right in the new law serves the legitimate objective of implementing the state’s determination on what it deems to be for the best interest and welfare of the child. A child should have legal certainty of his status following a period of time after adoption. However, even if the petitioner cannot sever legal relations with the respondent, she is still within her legal rights by will and testament to exclude the respondent from any enment to her estate and inheritance.

Excerpt citing CRC and other relevant human rights A brief background on the law and its origins could provide some insights on the subject. In ancient times, the Romans undertook adoption to assure male heirs in the family. The continuity of the adopter’s family was the primary purpose of adoption and all matters relating to it basically focused on the rights of the adopter. There was hardly any mention about the rights of the adopted. Countries, like Greece, France, Spain and England, in an effort to preserve inheritance within the family, neither allowed nor recognised adoption. It was only much later when adoption was given an impetus in law and still later when the welfare of the child became a paramount concern. Spain itself which previously disfavoured adoption ultimately relented and accepted the Roman law concept of adoption which, subsequently, was to find its way to the archipelago. The Americans came and introduced their own ideas on adoption which, unlike most in Europe, made the interests of the child an overriding consideration. In the early part of the century just passed, the rights of children invited universal attention; the Geneva Declaration of Rights of the Child of 1924 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,  followed by the United Nations Declarations of the Rights of the Child, were written instruments that would also protect and safeguard the rights of adopted children. The Civil Code of the Philippines  of 1950 on adoption, later modified by the Child and Youth Welfare Code and then by the Family Code of the Philippines, gave immediate statutory acknowledgment to the rights of the adopted. In 1989, the United Nations initiated the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Philippines, a State Party to the Convention, accepted the principle that adoption was impressed with social and moral responsibility, and that its underlying intent was geared to favour the adopted child. R.A. No. 8552 secured these rights and privileges for the adopted. Most importantly, it affirmed the legitimate status of the adopted child, not only in his new family but also in the society as well. The new law withdrew the right of an adopter to rescind the adoption decree and gave to the adopted child the sole right to sever the legal ties created by adoption.

CRIN comments:  CRIN believes this decision is consistent with the CRC. Under Article 21, the best interests of the child must be a paramount consideration in adoption matters, including the interest to have legal certainty regarding the legal status of the child’s parents.

Citation:  [2003] PHSC 411

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