Unproven defense
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2020 - 12:00am

Divorce is not recognized in the Philippines. Even a divorce decree obtained abroad by an alien spouse married to a Filipino, which is a foreign judgment relating to the status of their marriage, does not have an automatic effect here. It must first be recognize by Philippine courts before it can be effective in this jurisdiction. But is it still necessary to file a separate petition? Can it be invoked by a party as a claim or defense in a separate case filed by or against him/her? These are the issues raised and answered in this case of Dindo, who was accused of bigamy.

Dindo married Nida but sometime after their marriage, Nida left for Canada to work as a nurse. While in Canada, Nida applied for Canadian citizenship, which was eventually granted. After becoming a Canadian citizen, Nida filed a petition for divorce to sever her marital ties with Dindo. So more than four years after their marriage, the Supreme Court of British Columbia granted the divorce.

Then about another five years after obtaining the divorce, Nida came back to her hometown in the Philippines for a vacation. While here, Dindo’s mother and grandparents, who were against the divorce, convinced her and Dindo to give their marriage a second chance, to which they acceded. Their attempts to rekindle their romance resulted in the birth of their daughter. But inspite of Dindo and Nida’s effort to save their marriage, it turned out to be futile as Nida once more left the Philippines, went back to Canada and eventually married a Canadian in British Columbia.

On the other hand, Dindo met Delia to whom he admitted that he was previously married to Nida who divorced him. Despite this admission, their romance blossomed and culminated in their marriage two months later. They established their conjugal home and had two children. But their relationship turned sour when Nida again returned to the Philippines and met Dindo to persuade him to allow their daughter to apply for Canadian citizenship. Upon learning of Dindo and Nida’s meeting, Delia thought that they had reconciled. So she left their conjugal home and filed a complaint for bigamy against Dindo nine years after marrying him.

At the trial, Nida’s deposition was taken because she was about to go back to Canada. Thus the prosecution moved that Dindo be allowed to present his evidence first, in view of his admissions on the two marriages he contracted. He raised as his main defense the divorce decree obtained by Nida in Canada. On the other hand, the prosecution waived the presentation of testimonial evidence and presented instead the marriage contracts entered into by Dindo with Nida and Delia. It also adopted as its own exhibit the certificate of divorce of Nida from Dindo, which was issued only ten years after Dindo and Delia got married.

After trial, the RTC found Dindo guilty of the crime of bigamy beyond reasonable doubt because of Dindo’s failure to present competent evidence proving (1) the alleged divorce decree; (2) the naturalization of Nida as Canadian citizen as well as his admission that he did not seek judicial recognition of said divorce decree. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). Were the RTC and the CA correct?

Yes, said the Supreme Court (SC). According to the SC, since Dindo raised the defense of divorce obtained by Nida, he must show that it was validly obtained in accordance with national law of Canada where she became a citizen. He has the burden of providing the termination of this first marriage prior to the celebration of the second marriage to Delia. In his case the divorce decree obtained by Nida is a foreign judgment relating to the status of a marriage which does not have an automatic effect but must first be recognized by Philippine courts. This recognition need not be obtained in a separate petition filed solely for that purpose but may just be invoked by Dindo as his defense in the bigamy case. To do so, he must prove that it is in conformity with the law of Canada through an official publication or two copies of the foreign law and the divorce decree duly attested by the officer having legal custody of said documents, accompanied by a duly sealed and authenticated certificate of the diplomatic or consular officer of the Philippines stationed in Canada.

In this case Dindo only presented the certificate of divorce allegedly issued by the registrar of the Supreme Court of British Columbia ten years after the divorce decree was granted. This is utterly insufficient to rebut the charge against Dindo because: (1) it is a mere certification and not the judgment or decree of divorce itself issued by the foreign court; (2) even if it can be considered as the divorce decree,it is not accompanied by a certification of the Philippine consular officer stationed in Canada; and (3) no copy of the alleged Canadian Law was presented. Furthermore, the decree does not specify whether the divorce was absolute, which terminates the marriage, or limited, which merely suspends it. The fact that Nida already remarried in Canada cannot justify the reversal of Dindo’s conviction because of absence of competent evidence concerning the divorce decree and the naturalization of Nida.

Since Dindo failed to prove the existence of divorce and that it was validly acquired prior to the celebration of his second marriage to Delia, he is really guilty of bigamy and sentenced to imprisonment of two years, four months and one day minimum to eight years and one  day maximum (Sart vs. Philippines, G.R. 206284, Feb. 28, 2018)

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