Unfounded belief
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2020 - 12:00am

If one of the spouses to a marriage has disappeared or has been missing for four consecutive years and the/spouse present has a well-founded belief that the absent spouse is already dead, said spouse present may marry again provided he/she obtains a court decree in a summary proceeding for the declaration of the presumptive death of the missing spouse. What is the meaning of “well founded belief?” How is it proven? Is it enough to show that the spouse who disappeared has not been heard of and has not appeared for four years? These are the issues raised and answered in this case.

This is the case of Lyn, a lovely country girl, and Mark, a college student in a Visayan City where they reside. When Mark met Lyn, he fell in love with her and after eight months of being in a relationship, they got married at the Parish Church.

After their wedding the couple stayed at the house of Lyn’s parents and they begot two children, Mandy and Cindy. To support his family Mark started working as a security guard of a warehouse although later on he transferred to another city in the Visayas for an opportunity to earn a bigger salary.

Four years after they got married, Lyn asked Mark’s permission to travel to Manila to visit some relatives using the money given by her father who received his retirement pay. The couple constantly communicated with each other for the first three months thru their cell phone. Later Mark resigned and transferred to another city where he worked also as a security guard in the Hall of Justice. He told Lyn that as soon as she returns from Manila they would be living together in said city, together with their two children. Thereafter their communication tapered off until it ceased altogether. Initially Mark thought that Lyn merely lost her cell phone so he inquired from her relatives in the city where they first resided after their marriage. Someone informed him that Lyn was then already cohabiting with another man and would no longer come back, out of shame.

For almost ten years Mark diligently tried to locate his wife, spending his meager resources to look for her in the Visayas, Metro Manila, and in some Southern Luzon provinces where she had been seen according to her relatives. Mark also constantly communicated with Lyn’s relatives in their home city asking for information on her whereabouts. When all his efforts proved futile, he decided to file a Petition for Declaration of Presumptive death of Lyn before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in order to dissolve their marriage and enable him to marry again.

After compliance with the jurisdictional requirements of publication and posting and with no opposition having been filed, the RTC granted his petition and declared that Lyn is presumptively dead pursuant to Article 41 of the Family Code.

Subsequently, the Solicitor General as counsel of the Republic of the Philippines filed a Petition for Certiorari to annul said Judgment on the ground that Mark’s efforts were insufficient to give rise to a “well-founded belief” that she is already dead.

The Court of Appeals (CA) however sustained the ruling of the RTC, declaring Lyn as presumptively dead. But on further Petition before the Supreme Court (SC), the CA decision was reversed and set aside.

According to the SC, the issue here is purely legal or whether Mark’s efforts to locate Lyn are sufficient to establish that he has a “well-founded belief” that Lyn is already dead.

To be able to comply with this requirement, Mark must prove that his belief was the result of diligent and reasonable efforts and inquiries to locate Lyn and that based on these efforts and inquiries he believes that under the circumstances, Lyn is already dead. In this case Mark’s efforts fell short of the degree of diligence required by law and jurisprudence, Mark failed to allege, much less prove, the extent of his search in the places where he claims to have gone, leaving no way for the Court to ascertain such extent. He failed to identify Lyn’s relatives he had communicated with and disclose what he learned from these communications. Moreover Mark never sought the help of the authorities to locate Lyn in the course of her ten-year disappearance. And finally, Mark’s allegations that Lyn’s relatives admitted to him that she is now cohabiting with another man and will not be going home because of shame, only proves the likelihood that she does not want to be found. So there is really no well-founded belief that Lyn is already dead. Thus, Mark’s Petition to declare Lyn presumptively dead should really be denied (Republic vs. Quinonez, G.R. 237412, January 6, 2020)

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