Vital institution

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

This is another case proving once more that our laws consider marriage as an inviolable social institution in which the State is vitally interested. This is the case of Ernie and Fely.

Ernie and Fely were already scheduled to be married at the Parish Catholic Church of their hometown. But on the day of the wedding, when they went to the church dressed in barong tagalog and wedding gown together with their parents, sponsors and guests, the supposed officiating priest refused to solemnize the marriage upon learning that the couple failed to secure a marriage license.

Instead of calling off the wedding however Ernie and Fely together with their wedding entourage and guests, proceeded to the Independent Church of Filipino Christians, also known as the Aglipayan Church. They requested the Aglipayan priest (the priest) to perform a ceremony to which the latter agreed despite having been informed by the couple that they had no marriage license.

The priest prepared his choir and scheduled a mass for the couple on the same date. He conducted the ceremony in the presence of the groom, the bride, their parents, the principal and secondary sponsors and the rest of their invited guests.

Subsequently however, the priest was charged with violation of Article 352 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), as amended, before the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of their town for allegedly performing an illegal marriage ceremony. On being arraigned, the priest entered the plea of “not guilty” to the crime charged.

 The prosecution presented as its witnesses, Jerry the cord sponsor, and Linda the veil sponsor. They testified on the incidents of the ceremony. Linda said that the bride walked down the aisle and the couple exchanged marriage vows and their wedding rings, kissed each other and signed a document. She further declared that the officiating priest instructed the principal sponsors to sign on the marriage contract. Thereafter she said that they went to the reception, had lunch and took pictures. She also saw the officiating priest there and she identified the wedding invitation given to her by Ernie.

Flora, the mother of Ernie also testified. She said that the couple declared during the ceremony that they take each other as husband and wife and that, days after the wedding, she went to the municipal local civil registrar of their town together with their lawyer where she was given a certificate that no marriage license was issued to the couple.

The officiating priest while admitting that he conducted a ceremony, denied that his act of blessing the couple was tantamount to a solemnization of the marriage as contemplated by law.

Nevertheless the MTC found him guilty of violation of Article 352 of the RPC, as amended, and imposed on him a P200 fine pursuant to Section 44 of Act No. 3613. It held that his act of giving a blessing constitutes a marriage ceremony. It further ruled that in

performing a marriage ceremony without the couple’s marriage license, he violated Article 352 of the RPC which imposes the penalty provided under Act No. 3613 or the Marriage Law. Thus the MTC imposed the penalty of a fine in the amount of P200.

The RTC affirmed the findings of the MTC and added that the circumstances surrounding the act of the petitioner in “blessing” the couple unmistakably show that a marriage ceremony had transpired.

On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC’s ruling. The CA observed that although there is no prescribed form or religious rite for the solemnization of marriage, the law provides minimum standards in determining whether a marriage ceremony has been conducted, which the prosecution has proven viz: (1) the contracting parties must appear personally before the solemnizing officer; and (2) they should declare that they take each other as husband and wife in the presence of at least two witnesses of legal age. Were the CA, RTC and MTC correct?

Yes. The elements of the crime punishable under Article 352 of the RPC, as amended, were proven by the prosecution. Article 352 of the RPC, as amended, penalizes an authorized solemnizing officer who shall perform or authorize any illegal marriage ceremony. The elements of this crime are as follows: (1) authority of the solemnizing officer; and (2) his performance of an illegal marriage ceremony. In the present case, the petitioner admitted that he has authority to solemnize a marriage. While Article 352 of the RPC, as amended, does not specifically define a “marriage ceremony” and what constitutes its “illegal” performance, Articles 3(3) and 6 of the Family Code are clear on these matters. Article 6 of the Family Code provides that “[n]o prescribed form or religious rite for the solemnization of the marriage is required. It shall be necessary, however, for the contracting parties to appear personally before the solemnizing officer and declare in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age that they take each other as husband and wife.”

In this case, the priest admitted that the parties appeared before him and this fact was testified to by witnesses. The prosecution has likewise proven through the testiminonies of its witnesses that the contracting parties personally declared that they take each other as husband and wife.

The priest cannot say that he is in good faith because he performed the “blessing” knowing that the couple had no marriage license. Performing a marriage without a license is illegal and punishable under Article 352 of the RPC. (Ronulo vs. People, G.R. 182438, July 2, 2014).

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