Long lost husband

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

A marriage may be dissolved by the death of a spouse. And under Article 41 of the Family Code (FC), a spouse who has been missing for four consecutive years, or two consecutive years if his disappearance occurred when there is danger of death, may be declared by the court as presumptively dead, in order that the present spouse may be able to marry again. To be able to obtain from the court a declaration of presumptive death, the spouse present must have a well-founded belief that the absent spouse is dead. What constitutes “well-founded belief?” This is explained and answered in this case of Teresa.

Teresa got married to Manny, a member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in a ceremony solemnized by a municipal judge. Three days after their marriage, Manny left Teresa and went on a combat mission. Since then, Teresa had not heard any news from Manny. So she tried to locate and communicate with him. She inquired from his parents, relatives and neighbors as to his whereabouts, but unfortunately they also did not know where to find him.

Thereafter, Teresa just allowed the passage of time and simply waited for Manny to come back. After 33 years of waiting and without any kind of communication from Manny, she already filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) a petition to declare Manny as presumptively dead for the purpose of remarriage, alleging that she firmly believes that he is already dead due to his long years of absence without any news or communication from him.

Since there was no opposition to her petition, Teresa was allowed to present her evidence ex parte. She testified and affirmed the circumstances surrounding Manny’s disappearance and the efforts she exerted in locating and finding him by inquiring from Manny’s parents, relative and neighbors.

The RTC granted Teresa’s petition and declared Manny as presumptively dead for all legal intents and purposes without prejudice to the effect of his reappearance. It found that the absence of 33 years was sufficient to give rise to the presumption of death. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA) which gave credence to the RTC’s findings on the efforts exerted by Teresa and the long absence of Manny that give rise to the presumption that Manny is already dead.

But the Supreme Court (SC) said that the RTC and the CA are wrong. According to the SC, the well-founded belief in Manny’s death requires Teresa to prove that her belief was the result of diligent and reasonable efforts to locate Manny and that based on these efforts and inquiries, she believes that Manny is already dead. It necessitates exertion of active effort, not a passive one. As such mere absence of Manny for such long period of 33 years, lack of any news that Manny is still alive, and failure to communicate would not suffice.

The stringent requirement of “well-founded belief” can only be discharged upon a showing of proper and honest-to-goodness inquiries and efforts to ascertain not only Manny’s whereabouts but, more importantly, whether he is still alive or already dead. Here, Teresa only made inquiries from Manny’s parents, relatives and friends as to his whereabouts. She should have sought the help of the authorities or the AFP itself in finding him. Considering her own pronouncement that Manny was sent by the AFP on a combat mission at the time of his disappearance, she could have inquired from the AFP about the status of said mission, or from members of the AFP who were assigned thereto.

Furthermore, Teresa did not even present Manny’s relatives, parents and friends as witnesses to corroborate her asseverations. Her bare assertions that she inquired from them about Manny’s whereabouts are insufficient as they were not even identified nor presented as witnesses. Her bare testimony without any corroborative evidence to support it is not enough. She simply allowed the passage of time without actively and diligently searching for Manny. This does not constitute a well-founded belief that her husband is already dead (Republic vs. Tampus, G.R. 214243, March 16, 2016).

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