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Opinion

Both in good faith

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

This case is about moral damages, a form of compensation for the “physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, serious anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation and similar injury sustained by a person” (Article 2217 Civil Code). When is moral damages awarded? This is answered and explained in this case of Orly.

Orly first married Minda in Quezon City. Later, however, Minda obtained a divorce decree in the USA. Believing that he was divorced from Minda, Orly married Linda also in the USA about 17 years after his marriage to Minda. However, Orly and Linda separated after 11 years of marriage. Then three years later, he also obtained a judicial declaration of nullity of his first marriage to Minda.

After Orly found out that Minda was still a Filipino citizen when she obtained the divorce decree in the US and as such, his marriage to her was still valid and subsisting when he married Linda, he also filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) a Petition for Declaration of Nullity of his second marriage to Linda on the ground that it is a bigamous marriage based on Article 35 (4) of the Family Code (FC).

Linda opposed Orly’s petition and claimed that their marriage was valid under Article 26 of the FC and not prohibited by Article 35(4) because she was a US citizen at that time. Further, she claimed that the petition was Orly’s scheme to evade liability in a separate civil case she previously filed for separation of their property.

After hearing the case, the RTC issued a decision granting Orly’s petition and declaring his marriage to Linda null and void. But the RTC ordered Orly to pay Linda P250,000 as moral damages, P100,000 for exemplary damages and P150,000 as and for attorney’s fees incurred by Linda. The RTC found that Orly was incapacitated to marry at the time he married Linda because he was then still validly married to Minda, thus rendering their marriage bigamous and null and void, under Article 35 (4) FC.

The RTC also ruled that Orly was liable for moral, exemplary damages and attorney’s fees incurred by Linda because his act of contracting a second marriage despite his first marriage not yet being annulled undermined the family as an inviolable social institution, against good morals and the interest and general welfare of society. He is also liable for exemplary damages because his actions were tainted with bad faith. He is also ordered to pay attorney’s fees because Linda has been constrained to incur said expenses to protect her interest.

On partial appeal of Orly to the Court of Appeals (CA) as to the award of damages and attorney’s fees to Linda, the CA modified the RTC decision by deleting the award of moral and exemplary damages and attorney’s fees because Orly did not deliberately contract a second marriage despite knowing that his first marriage subsisted, since he believed in good faith that the divorce decree secured by his first wife Minda was valid and binding as he thought she was already a US citizen. The CA also ruled that Orly did not act in a wanton, fraudulent, reckless, oppressive or malevolent manner in seeking the nullity of his marriage to Linda, so the award of exemplary damages should also be deleted. Regarding the award of attorney’s fees, it should also be deleted as both parties had incurred costs to protect their interests. Was the CA correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said yes.  According to the SC, Orly’s bad faith, or deliberate intent to do a wrongful act, was not established. It was not convincingly shown that Orly deliberately contracted a second marriage despite knowledge of the subsistence of a first marriage. He believed in good faith that the divorce decree given to his first wife was valid and binding in the Philippines because he thought all along that his first wife Minda was already an American citizen. Thus, he and Linda, as consenting adults, freely married each other, both believing that the final divorce decree was valid and binding in the Philippines.

Indeed, had they known that Orly’s first marriage to Minda was still in existence because it later turned out that Minda was still a Filipino when the divorce decree was issued, they would not have married each other under pain of being indicted for bigamy. So Orly should not be held liable for damages as he did not act in bad faith when he married Linda. Bad faith does not simply mean negligence or bad judgment. It involves a state of mind dominated by ill will or motive. It implies a conscious and intentional design to do a wrongful act for a dishonest purpose or some moral obliquity.

In fact, Linda knew that there existed some issue regarding Orly’s first marriage which might adversely affect the validity of her marriage to him. Yet she did not institute any action to protect her civil status and appeared complacent with the uncertainty that hovered over the validity of her marriage with Orly. So, there being no entitlement to moral damages, no exemplary damages can likewise be awarded to Linda. This ruling is similar to the ruling in the case of Mercado vs. Ongpin, G.R. 207324 Sept. 30, 2020.

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Email: [email protected]

REGIONAL TRIAL COURT

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