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Opinion

Fatal falsity

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

A marriage contracted without a marriage license by a man and a woman of legal age is void except when they have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years prior to getting married. For the exception to apply, the contracting parties shall state this requisite fact in an affidavit before any person authorized by law to administer oaths. But what if the affidavit of co-habitation they executed is false because they have not actually lived together as husband and wife for at least five years? What is the effect of this falsity on their marriage? This is answered in this case of Sonny.

Sonny was an eligible bachelor, 27 years old working in a government agency when he met and was introduced to Cely, 37 years old. Somehow Cely got attracted to Sonny such that four months after they met, Cely convinced Sonny to move into her house and live with her.  After another five months of living together, Cely asked Sonny to go with her to a Church Minister apparently to get married. Since they didn’t have a marriage license, the couple executed an affidavit attesting to the fact that they were of marrying age and have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years. The Solemnizing Officer then took steps to ascertain the ages and other qualifications of the contracting parties and after doing so, solemnized the marriage with Sonny’s sister Tita, acting as one of the witnesses to the marriage and voluntarily signed the marriage certificate.

Thereafter, Sonny acknowledged Cely as his wife in several documents particularly in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and in his ID where he named Cely as the person to be contracted in case of emergency. There was also a Barangay Certification attesting that Cely and Sonny had lived together as husband and wife in the said barangay.

But four years after the solemnization of this marriage, Sonny contracted another marriage with Tessie his co-employee at the government office who apparently became his sweetheart while he was already living with Cely. When Cely got wind of such marriage, she filed an action for bigamy against Sonny. Subsequently she also filed an administrative complaint against him before the Ombudsman for disgraceful and immoral conduct.

To counter Cely’s moves, Sonny filed a complaint for Annulment and/or Declaration of Nullity of Marriage with the Regional Trial Court. He claimed that his marriage with Cely was a sham as no marriage ceremony was celebrated between them; that his consent was secured through fraud; and that he did not execute the sworn statement stating that he and Cely lived together as husband and wife for at least five years.

During the trial, Sonny told the court that he came to live in Cely’s house as a boarder, the latter being his landlady. Then, while living with her, Cely requested him to accompany her to the City Hall to claim a package sent to her by her brother in Saudi Arabia. Then upon prearranged signal, a man approached them bringing three folded papers and asked Sonny to sign the papers so that the package could be released. Sonny said he reluctantly signed after Cely cajoled him and threatened him that his refusal could get both of them killed by his brother. It was only about three months later when he discovered that he signed a marriage contract.

In answer, Cely defended the validity of their marriage. She declared that they had maintained their relationship as husband and wife for about six years but deferred contracting marriage on account of their age difference. But during the trial, she admitted that Sonny commenced to live in her house only about five months before the celebration of their marriage.

The RTC dismissed Sonny’s suit for annulment or declaration of nullity of his marriage to Cely citing it as incredible. It ruled that his marriage to Cely was valid because there was no fraud or trickery, which even if present was already barred by prescription. The RTC did not believe his story because any person in his right frame of mind would easily suspect and detect that something was amiss or unusual when he is asked to sign a blank sheet of paper. Besides the court said that his consent could not have been obtained by fraud because even after he allegedly learned that he signed a marriage contract, he still acknowledged in several documents that Cely was his wife.

This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). But subsequently, it amended its decision and ruled that since the marriage between Sonny and Cely was without a marriage license, it could be valid only if they execute an affidavit that they have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years prior to the celebration of marriage (Article 76, Civil Code). In this case however, the affidavit they executed was false because when they got married, they had lived only for more than five months. So their marriage was void from the beginning, said the CA. Was the CA correct?

Yes. The exception of a marriage license under Article 76 applies only to those who have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years and desire to marry each other. The Civil Code, in no ambiguous terms, places a minimum period requirement of five years of cohabitation.  Article 76 also prescribes that the contracting parties shall state the requisite facts in an affidavit before any person authorized by law to administer oaths; and that the official, priest or minister who solemnized the marriage shall also state in an affidavit that he took steps to ascertain the ages and other qualifications of the contracting parties and that he found no legal impediment to the marriage.

In this case, it is indubitably established that Sonny and Cely have not lived together for five years at the time they executed their sworn affidavit and contracted marriage. They only started living together barely five months before the celebration of their marriage according to Cely’s own testimony.

Therefore, the falsity of the affidavit executed by Sonny and Cely to exempt them from the requirement of a marriage license is beyond question. This falsity cannot be a mere irregularity, for it refers to a quintessential fact that the law precisely required to be deposed and attested to by the parties under oath. If the essential matter in the sworn affidavit is a lie, then it is but a mere scrap of paper, without force and effect. Hence, it is as if there was no affidavit at all (Republic vs. Dayot, G.R. 175581, March 28, 2008)

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Email: attyjosesison@gmail.com. ??

AFFIDAVIT CELY FIVE LIVED MARRIAGE NBSP SONNY SONNY AND CELY TOGETHER WIFE YEARS
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