Although divorce is not allowed under Philippine laws, Article 26 of the Family Code recognizes the validity of divorce obtained in a foreign country in certain cases. The pertinent portion of Article 26 states:
“Where a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.”
The Supreme Court used to maintain that the divorce proceeding should be initiated by the alien spouse. If the divorce was initiated by the Filipino spouse, Article 26 would find no application. That view, however, was abandoned by the Supreme Court in the case of Republic vs. Manalo.
Republic of the Philippines versus Marelyn Tanedo Manalo (G.R. NO. 221029)
Manalo filed a case for divorce in Japan against her husband, a Japanese national. After due proceeding, a divorce decree was rendered by the Japanese court. Thereafter, Manalo filed a petition for cancellation of entry of marriage in the Civil Registry of San Juan, Metro Manila, by virtue of a judgment of divorce rendered by a Japanese court. The petition was later amended and captioned as a petition for recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment.
Decision of the Trial Court
The trial court (RTC) denied the petition for lack of merit. In ruling that the divorce obtained by Manalo in Japan should not be recognized, it opined that, based on Article 15 of the New Civil Code, the Philippine law “does not afford Filipinos the right to file a divorce, whether they are in the country or living abroad, if they are married to Filipinos or to foreigners, or if they celebrated their marriage in the Philippines or in another country” and that unless Filipinos “are naturalized as citizens of another country, Philippine laws shall have control over issues related to Filipino family rights and duties, together with determination of their condition and legal capacity to enter into contracts and civil relations, including marriages”.
Decision of the Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals (CA) overturned the RTC decision. It held that Article 26 of the Family Code of the Philippines (Family Code) is applicable even if it was Manalo who filed for divorce against her Japanese husband because the decree they obtained makes the latter no longer married to the former, capacitating him to remarry. Conformably with Navarro, et al. v. Exec. Secretary, et al. [663 Phil. 546 (2011)] ruling that the meaning of the law should be based on the intent of the lawmakers and in view of the legislative intent behind Article 26, it would be the height of injustice to consider Manalo as still married to the Japanese national, who, in turn, is no longer married to her. For the appellate court, the fact that it was Manalo who filed the divorce case is inconsequential.
Decision of the Supreme Court
Paragraph 2 of Article 26 speaks of “a divorce x x x validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry”. Based on a clear and plain reading of the provision, it only requires that there be a divorce validly obtained abroad. The letter of the law does not demand that the alien spouse should be the one who initiated the proceeding wherein the divorce decree was granted. It does not distinguish whether the Filipino spouse is the petitioner or the respondent in the foreign divorce proceeding.
Purpose of Paragraph 2 Article 26
A Filipino who initiated a foreign divorce proceeding is in the same place and in like circumstance as a Filipino who is at the receiving end of an alien initiated proceeding.
The purpose of Paragraph 2 of Article 26 is to avoid the absurd situation where the Filipino spouse remains married to the alien spouse who, after a foreign divorce decree that is effective in the country where it is rendered, is no longer married to the Filipino spouse. The provision is a corrective measure to address the anomaly where the Filipino spouse is tied to the marriage while the foreign spouse is free to remarry under the laws of his or her country. Whether the Filipino spouse initiated the foreign divorce proceeding or not, a favorable decree dissolving the marriage bond and capacitating his or her alien spouse to remarry will have the same result: the Filipino spouse will effectively be without a husband or a wife. A Filipino who initiated a foreign divorce proceeding is in the same place and in like circumstance as a Filipino who is at the receiving end of an alien initiated proceeding. Therefore, the subject provision should not make a distinction. In both instance, it is extended as a means to recognize the residual effect of the foreign divorce decree on Filipinos whose marital ties to their alien spouses are severed by operation of the latter’s national law.
Party Initiating the Divorce Proceeding
There is no real and substantial difference between a Filipino who initiated a foreign divorce proceeding and a Filipino who obtained a divorce decree upon the instance of his or her alien spouse. In the eyes of the Philippine and foreign laws, both are considered Filipinos who have the same rights and obligations in an alien land. The circumstances surrounding them are alike. Were it not for Paragraph 2 of Article 26, both are still married to their foreigner spouses who are no longer their wives/husbands. Hence, to make a distinction between them are based merely on superficial difference of whether they initiated the divorce proceedings or not is utterly unfair. Indeed, the treatment gives undue favor to one and unjustly discriminate against the other.
Applicability of Article 26
Thus, a Filipino citizen, who initiated a divorce proceeding abroad and obtained a favorable judgment against his or her alien spouse who is capacitated to remarry, has the capacity to remarry pursuant to Article 26 (2) of the Family Code.