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Jenie San Juan Dela Cruz, et al., etc., v. Ronald Paul S. Gracia, etc.

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Court/Judicial body:  Supreme Court of the Philippines
Date: 31 July 2009 CRC
Provisions:  Article 3: Best interests of the child
Domestic provisions: Rule 7 of Administrative Order No. 1, Series of 2004 – Requirements for the Child to Use the Surname of the Father: The illegitimate child shall use the surname of the father if a public document is executed by the father. If admission of paternity is made through a private handwritten instrument, the child shall use the surname of the father, provided the registration is supported by certain documents. Article 176 of the Family Code: Illegitimate children shall use the surname and shall be under the parental authority of their mother. Illegitimate children may use the surname of their father if their filiation has been expressly recognised by the father through the record of birth appearing in the civil register, or when an admission in a public document or private handwritten instrument is made by the father. The father has the right to institute an action before the courts to prove non-filiation during his lifetime.

Case summary

Background: The petitioner Jenie San Juan Dela Cruz (Jenie) cohabited with her partner Christian Dominique Tomas Aquino (Dominique) for several months leading up to Dominique’s death. They were not legally married. Two months after Dominique’s death, Jenie gave birth to their child, Christian. Jenie applied to register Christian with Dominique’s surname and presented written evidence that Dominique had acknowledged that Christian was his child before his death. The application was denied on the ground that the child was considered to be born out of wedlock and Dominique has no capacity to acknowledge paternity of Christian or provide the documents required following his death. Jenie filed a complaint against the decision and argued that Dominique’s written acknowledgement of paternity prior to his death, was also supported and verified by his brother, falls within the documents required under the law. The trial court dismissed Jenie’s complaint as Dominique’s written acknowledgement was not signed and held that even if it was signed, did not contain an express acknowledgement and therefore did not meet the legal requirements. Jenie appealed and argued that the law did not require an acknowledgement to be signed and that the trial court had erred in not recognising a clear and unmistakable acknowledgement of paternity.

Issue and resolution: Paternity of child born out of wedlock. Whether or not the unsigned handwritten statement of the deceased father can be considered a recognition of paternity in a “private handwritten instrument” within the meaning of Article 176 of the Family Code. The Court held that it did and ordered Christian to be registered with Dominique’s surname.

Court reasoning: Although there is no express requirement in the law stating that a written instrument acknowledging paternity needs to be signed, the requirement for due execution is implied. In the present case, however, special circumstances exist to hold that Dominique’s acknowledgement of paternity though unsigned by him, substantially satisfies the requirement of the law. Since Dominique died two months prior to the child’s birth and is prevented from acknowledging paternity in person. And also, the written acknowledgement of paternity was handwritten and its authenticity was supported by the facts and evidence that Jenie presented. For example, Dominique’s brother’s corroboration and confirmation of the authenticity of the written acknowledgement despite such testimony being prejudicial to his own rights to inheritance. Furthermore, the fact that Jenie and Dominique lived together and Jenie continues to live with Dominique’s parents provide further factual verification. There is therefore no doubt or dispute that Dominique’s written acknowledgement is authentic and that paternity is established. The law states that the welfare of the child shall be the “paramount consideration”. It is in Christian’s best interests to have legal certainty of his paternity and to allow him to bear the surname of his now deceased father and have a definitive name reflected in his birth certificate and avoid the stigma of illegitimacy.
Excerpt citing CRC and other relevant human rights Our laws instruct that the welfare of the child shall be the “paramount consideration” in resolving questions affecting him. Article 3(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child of which the Philippines is a signatory is similarly emphatic: Article 3(1): 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. It is thus “the policy of the Family Code to liberalise the rule on the investigation of the paternity and filiation of children, especially of illegitimate children.” Too, “the State as parens patriae affords special protection to children from abuse, exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to their development.”   In the eyes of society, a child with an unknown father bears the stigma of dishonor. It is to petitioner minor child’s best interests to allow him to bear the surname of the now deceased Dominique and enter it in his birth certificate.

CRIN comments:  CRIN believes this decision is consistent with the CRC. The best interests of the child must be a primary consideration when determining all matters affecting the child, including the determination of the child’s paternity.

Citation:  [2009] PHSC 808

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