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Sufficient proof

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 23, 2021 - 12:00am

One of the means of establishing the legitimate filiation or fatherhood of a child is by admission in a public document or a private document signed by the parent concerned. But will the affixing of the thumb mark by the father be sufficient? This is the main issue raised and resolved in this case of Sonny and Tony.

Sonny and Tony are the illegitimate children of Larry and Emilia, who was the house helper in the household of Larry and his wife Millie, a French national who did not have any child. When Sonny was already 37 years old and Tony was 32 years old, and Larry was already blind and bedridden, Larry formally recognized Sonny and Tony as his children by Emilia in two public documents bearing his thumb marks, namely: (1) a notarized document jointly executed by Larry and Emilia formally recognizing them as their children and (2) a document solely executed by Larry denominated as Acknowledgment of Children. The witnesses to the document were Rita, the hairdresser of Larry’s sister, and Tony’s friend, Gardo.

Sixteen years later when their father Larry was already dead, Sonny and Tony filed an action before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for the judicial approval of their recognition as the illegitimate children of the late Larry. Since they have no knowledge of any relatives of Larry, they directed their action against unknown defendants. Eventually, however, or about two months later, Naty, a niece of Larry, raised her opposition.

Naty alleged that the spouses Larry and Millie informally adopted her as their child when she was only two years old and insisted that the father of Sonny and Tony was Cardo, the former houseboy in Larry’s household. She also alleged that the documents presented by Sonny and Tony were spurious.

So the RTC forwarded said documents to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for examination, where a fingerprint examiner concluded that all the thumbprints in the disputed documents belong to Larry. Naty also filed a motion for DNA testing of Larry who was already dead, but the RTC also denied said motion. Subsequently the presentation of evidence proceeded.

During the trial, only Sonny testified because Tony already died and their mother Emilia, who substituted for Tony, also died. Sonny testified to support the allegations of their action while Naty testified for the defense and tried to present photographs seeking to prove that she was treated by the spouses Larry and Millie as their own child. But the RTC and eventually the Court of Appeals also denied said admission of the photographs.

After trial on the merits, the RTC rendered a decision in favor of the recognition of Sonny and the late Tony as the illegitimate children of Larry. This was affirmed by the CA, on appeal by Naty. It gave due weight to the acknowledgments executed by Larry. Was the CA correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said yes. A thumb mark is a valid mode of signature, especially when a person is no longer capable of writing his name like Larry in this case. The authenticity of the documents of recognition executed by Larry as well as the credibility of the expert witness who testified in this case are questions of facts, for they involve the probative value of the evidence presented by the litigants. The findings of fact of the trial courts are given weight on appeal because they are in a better position to examine the real evidence and observe the demeanor of the witnesses and therefore discern whether they are telling the truth.

The inconsistencies cited by Naty are of no importance and insufficient to overcome the presumption of regularity of notarized documents. A notarized document is a public document and as such, it enjoys the presumption of regularity, which can only be overthrown by clear and convincing evidence.

The bare allegations of Naty cannot qualify as clear and convincing evidence. Her request for DNA testing to resolve the issue of paternity is already immaterial since the RTC already arrived at a definitive conclusion that Tony and Sonny are the illegitimate children of the deceased Larry. So the CA decision affirming the RTC ruling should likewise be affirmed (Agustin vs. Sales, G.R. 189289, Aug. 31, 2016).

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Email: js0711192@gmail.com

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