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[ GR No. 105619, Dec 12, 1995 ]



321 Phil. 562


[ G.R. No. 105619, December 12, 1995 ]




Can natural children by legal fiction be legitimized?

There being no explicit provision of law in point, the Court is called upon to cast illumination in a gray area even as it fills up unintentional interstices in the fabric of Civil Law with overlays of philosophical, historical and sociological strands. For an understanding of how the issue arose, we now proceed to unravel the pertinent factual background.

On February 7, 1941, Dr. Antonio de Santos married Sofia Bona, which union was blessed with a daughter, herein petitioner Maria Rosario de Santos.  After some time, their relationship became strained to the breaking point.  Thereafter, Antonio fell in love with a fellow doctor, Conchita Talag, private respondent herein. Antonio sought a formal dissolution of his first marriage by obtaining a divorce decree from a Nevada court in 1949.

Obviously aware that said decree was a worthless scrap of paper in our jurisdiction which then, as now, did not recognize divorces, Antonio proceeded to Tokyo, Japan in 1951 to marry private respondent, with whom he had been cohabiting since his de facto separation from Sofia.  This union produced eleven children.  On March 30, 1967, Sofia died in Guatemala.  Less than a month later, on April 23, 1967, Antonio and private respondent contracted a marriage in Tagaytay City celebrated under Philippine laws.  On March 8, 1981, Antonio died intestate leaving properties with an estimated value of P15,000,000.00.

On May 15, 1981, private respondent went to court[1] asking for the issuance of letters of administration in her favor in connection with the settlement of her late husband's estate.  She alleged, among other things, that the decedent was survived by twelve legitimate heirs, namely, herself, their ten surviving children, and petitioner.  There being no opposition, her petition was granted.

After six years of protracted intestate proceedings, however, petitioner decided to intervene.  Thus, in a motion she filed sometime in November 1987, she argued inter alia that private respondent's children were illegitimate.  This was challenged by private respondent although the latter admitted during the hearing that all her children were born prior to Sofia's death in 1967.

On November 14, 1991, after approval of private respondent's account of her administration, the court a quo passed upon petitioner's motion.  The court, citing the case of Francisco H. Tongoy, et al. v. Court of Appeals, et al. (23 SCRA 99 [1983]), declared private respondent's ten children legitimated and thereupon instituted and declared them, along with petitioner and private respondent, as the heirs of Antonio de Santos.

Petitioner sought a reconsideration of said order but this was denied in the court's order dated January 9, 1992.

Hence, she filed the instant petition for certiorari on June 16, 1992, contending that since only natural children can be legitimized, the trial court mistakenly declared as legitimated her half brothers and sisters.

This argument is tenable.

Article 269 of the Civil Code expressly states:

"Art. 269.  Only natural children can be legitimated. Children born outside wedlock of parents who, at the time of the conception of the former, were not disqualified by any impediment to marry each other, are natural."

In other words, a child's parents should not have been disqualified to marry each other at the time of conception for him to qualify as a "natural child."

In the case at bench, there is no question that all the children born to private respondent and deceased Antonio de Santos were conceived and born when the latter's valid marriage to petitioner's mother was still subsisting.  That private respondent and the decedent were married abroad after the latter obtained in Nevada, U.S.A. a decree of divorce from his legitimate wife does not change this fact, for a divorce granted abroad was not recognized in this jurisdiction at the time.  Evidently, the decedent was aware of this fact, which is why he had to have the marriage solemnized in Tokyo, outside of the Philippines.  It may be added here that he was likewise aware of the nullity of the Tokyo marriage for after his legitimate, though estranged wife died, he hastily contracted another marriage with private respondent, this time here in Tagaytay.

It must be noted that while Article 269, which falls under the general heading of "Paternity and Filiation," specifically deals with "Legitimated Children," Article 89, a provision subsumed under the general title on "Marriage," deals principally with void and voidable marriages and secondarily, on the effects of said marriages on their offspring.  It creates another category of illegitimate children, those who are "conceived or born of marriages which are void from the beginning," but because there has been a semblance of marriage, they are classified as "acknowledged natural children" and, accordingly, enjoy the same status, rights and obligations as such kind of children.  In the case at bench, the marriage under question is considered "void from the beginning" because bigamous, contracted when a prior valid marriage was still subsisting.  It follows that the children begotten of such union cannot be considered natural children proper for at the time of their conception, their parents were disqualified from marrying each other due to the impediment of a prior subsisting marriage.

What term should then be coined to distinguish them from natural children proper (those "born outside of wedlock of parents who, at the time of the conception of the former, were not disqualified by any impediment to marry each other")?  A legal fiction had to be resorted to, that device contrived by law to simulate a fact or condition which, strictly and technically speaking, is not what it purports to be.  In this case, the term "natural children by legal fiction" was invented, thus giving rise to another category of illegitimate children, clearly not to be confused with "natural children" as defined under Art. 269 but by fiction of law to be equated with acknowledged natural children and, consequently, enjoying the status, rights and obligations of the latter. Does this cluster of rights include the right to be legitimated?

Under the Civil Code, there exists a hierarchy of children classified on the basis of rights granted by law, which must be preserved by strictly construing the substantive provisions of the law in force.

Under the prevailing Civil Code (which may be considered "old" in light of the new provisions of the Family Code on "Persons"), much emphasis is laid on the classification of children vis-a-vis their parents, and the corresponding rights they are entitled to under the law.  Thus, the title on "Paternity and Filiation" devotes two whole chapters to legitimate children alone, and one chapter on those deemed by law to be possessed of the rights of the former, such as legitimated children, because of their compliance with certain requisites laid down by law; two other chapters deal with illegitimate children composed of recognized natural children, and those other than natural, or spurious, whether recognized or not.  The well-ordered delineation of such distinctions among these groups demonstrates a clear intent on the part of the framers of the Civil Code to compartmentalize and separate one from the other, for legitimacy/illegitimacy determines the substantive rights accruing to the different categories of children.

It must be noted that before said Code was enacted, other classes of illegitimate children were recognized, such as, "manceres" or the offspring of prostitutes and the "sacrilegious" or children of those who had received Holy Orders. Subsequently, the Civil Code, in an effort to keep in step with modern times, limited illegitimate filiation to those which are incestuous, adulterous and illicit.

At the core of the institution of legitimacy held sacrosanct by Spanish tradition and culture, lies the "inviolable social institution" known as marriage. This union, absent any formal or substantial defect or of any vice of consent, is virtually adamantine.  On the whole, the status of a marriage determines in large part the filiation of its resultant issue.  Thus, a child born within a valid marriage is legitimate, while one born outside of wedlock is illegitimate.  If, however, the latter's parents were, at the time of the child's conception, not legally barred from marrying each other and subsequently do so, the child's filiation improves as he becomes legitimized and the "legitimated" child eventually enjoys all the privileges and rights associated with legitimacy.  Without such marriage, the natural child's rights depend on whether he is acknowledged or recognized by his parents, but he does not rise to the level of a legitimate child in the manner that the legitimated child does.

A child conceived or born of a marriage which is void ab initio or one which is declared a nullity is illegitimate since there is no marriage to speak of, but it is the law which accords him the rights of an acknowledged natural child.

Finally, there are illegitimate children who are referred to as "spurious" or derisively denominated as "bastards" because of their doubtful origins.  There is no marriage   valid or otherwise which would give any semblance of legality to the child's existence.  Nothing links child to parent aside from the information appearing in the birth certificate.  When such child is recognized by one or both parents, he acquires certain rights nowhere approaching those of his legitimate counterparts.

The Civil Code provides three rights which, in varying degrees, are enjoyed by children, depending on their filiation:  use of surname, succession, and support.

Legitimate children and legitimated children are entitled to all three.[2] Thus, they "shall principally use the surname of the father,"[3] and shall be entitled to support from their legitimate ascendants and descendants,[4] as well as to a legitime consisting of one-half of the hereditary estate of both parents,[5] and to other successional rights, such as the right of representation.  "These rights as effects of legitimacy cannot be renounced."[6]

Natural children recognized by both parents and natural children by legal fiction shall principally use the surname of the father.[7] If a natural child is recognized by only one parent, the child shall follow the surname of such recognizing parent.[8] Both types of children are entitled to receive support from the parent recognizing them.[9] They also cannot be deprived of their legitime equivalent to one-half of that pertaining to each of the legitimate children or descendants of the recognizing parent, to be taken from the free disposable portion of the latter's estate.[10]

Recognized illegitimate children other than natural, or spurious issues, are, in their minority, under the parental authority of their mothers and, naturally, take the latter's surname.[11] The only support which they are entitled to is from the recognizing parent,[12] and their legitime, also to be taken from the free portion, consists of four-fifths of the legitime of an acknowledged natural child or two-fifths that of each legitimate child.[13]

It must also be observed that while the legitime of a legitimate child is fairly secured by law,[14] the legitime of any recognized illegitimate child, taken as it is from the free portion of the hereditary estate which the child shares with the surviving spouse, may be reduced if it should exceed said portion.[15]

Unrecognized illegitimate children are not entitled to any of the rights above mentioned.[16]

These distinctions gain more relevance if we were to consider that while a legitimated child may enjoy the same successional rights granted to legitimate children, a natural child by legal fiction cannot rise beyond that to which an acknowledged natural child is entitled, insofar as his hereditary rights are concerned.

It is thus incongruous to conclude, as private respondent maintains, that petitioner's half siblings can rise to her level by the fact of being legitimized, for two reasons: First, they failed to meet the most important requisite of legitimation, that is, that they be natural children within the meaning of Article 269; second, natural children by legal fiction cannot demand that they be legitimized simply because it is one of the rights enjoyed by acknowledged natural children.

It may be argued that legitimation is a right vouchsafed to acknowledged natural children and, therefore, by the same token, to natural children by legal fiction.  This conclusion is arrived at through a syllogism as simple as it is deceptive, which runs as follows:

The respondent's children are natural children by legal fiction.

Therefore, they have the same status, rights and obligations as acknowledged natural children.

Acknowledged natural children have the right to be legitimated.

Ergo, respondent's children have the right to be legitimated (as in fact they were "deemed legitimated" by the subsequent valid marriage of their parents in the Philippines in 1967).

The above line of reasoning follows the Euclidian geometric proposition that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.  This may hold true in the realm of instructional, as opposed to descriptive science, where the former calls for the application of absolute, mathematical rules with precision but not to the latter, particularly those which deal with the social sciences where human relationships are central to a study whose main concern is not to leave out anything of significance.  The former deals with inanimate things, those which a scientist has described as the "dead aspect of nature," excluding all factors regarded as superfluous to obtaining absolute results and nothing more. It does not concern itself so much with the whole truth as with those aspects or parts only through which the inexorable result can be obtained.  To apply the strict rules of syllogism, where the basic premise is defective, to the arena of paternity and filiation, especially in the determination of the status and rights of the different kinds of illegitimate children vis-a-vis the legitimate ones, is bound to spawn mischief and results never intended by the framers of the provisions of the law under review.

Pursued to its logical, undeviating conclusion, it may eventually be postulated that "adulterous children shall enjoy the status, rights and obligations of legitimate children," a doctrine which no moral philosophy under our social and cultural milieu can countenance.

This conclusion not only presumes that children other than those who are "natural" can be legitimized in the first place, but also grants acknowledged natural children (and, consequently, natural children by legal fiction) a "right" to be legitimized when no such right exists.  Legitimation is not a "right" which is demandable by a child.  It is a privilege, available only to natural children proper, as defined under Art. 269. Although natural children by legal fiction have the same rights as acknowledged natural children, it is a quantum leap in the syllogism to conclude that, therefore, they likewise have the right to be legitimated, which is not necessarily so, especially, as in this case, when the legally existing marriage between the children's father and his estranged first wife effectively barred a "subsequent marriage" between their parents.

The question that must be confronted next is:  How are the offspring of the second union affected by the first wife's death and the ensuing celebration of a valid marriage between her widower and his ostensible second wife?

Natural children by legal fiction cannot be legitimized in this fashion.  Our archaic law on family relations, patterned as it is after Spanish Civil Law, frowns upon illegal relations such that the benefits of legitimation under Chapter 3 of Title VIII do not extend, nor were they intended to extend, to natural children by legal fiction.  Article 269 itself clearly limits the privilege of legitimation to natural children as defined thereunder.  There was, therefore, from the outset, an intent to exclude children conceived or born out of illicit relations from the purview of the law.

Another point to be considered is that although natural children can be legitimized, and natural children by legal fiction enjoy the rights of acknowledged natural children, this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that natural children by legal fiction can likewise be legitimized.  As has been pointed out, much more is involved here than the mere privilege to be legitimized.  The rights of other children, like the petitioner in the case at bench, may be adversely affected as her testamentary share may well be reduced in the event that her ten surviving half siblings should be placed on par with her, when each of them is rightfully entitled to only half of her share.

The provisions of law invoked by private respondent are couched in simple and unmistakable language, not at all subject to interpretation, and they all point to the correctness of petitioner's claim.  If it should be asserted that we now trench on a gray area of law that calls for interpretation, or a lacuna that cries for filling up, then we have to pierce the shroud unintentionally created by the letter of the law and expose its spirit as evincing intent, in this case one which decidedly favors legitimacy over illegitimacy.  The hierarchy of children so painstakingly erected by law and the corresponding gradation of their rights may conceivably be shattered by elevating natural children by legal fiction who are incontestably illegitimate children to the level of natural children proper, whose filiation would otherwise be legitimate had their parents blessed their union with a valid marriage.

Finally, attention must be drawn to the fact that this case has been decided under the provisions of the Civil Code, not the Family Code which now recognizes only two classes of children: legitimate and illegitimate. "Natural children by legal fiction" are nothing if not pure fiction.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED.  The assailed orders of the court a quo dated November 14, 1991 and January 9, 1992, are NULLIFIED and SET ASIDE.  Petitioner Maria Rosario de Santos is hereby declared the SOLE LEGITIMATE CHILD of the decedent Antonio de Santos and, as such, entitled to all the rights accorded to her by law.


Feliciano, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Melo, Puno, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Hermosisima, Jr., J., with concurring opinion.
Vitug and  Kapunan, JJ., see dissenting opinions.
Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Bellosillo, and Francisco, JJ., join J.

[1] Special Proceeding Case No. C-851 filed before Branch 121 of the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City.

[2] Civil Code, Articles 264 and 272.

[3] Ibid, Article 364.

[4] Id., Article 291(2).

[5] Id., Article 888(1st par.).

[6] J.B.L. Reyes and R.C. Puno, An Outline of Philippine Civil Law, Vol. I, 1965, p. 248, citing Arts. 301, 905, and 1347.

[7] Civil Code, Article 366-367.

[8] Ibid, Article 366.

[9] Id., Article 291(3) and (4), in relation to Article 89.

[10] Id., Article 895, in relation to Article 282.

[11] Id., Articles 288 and 368.

[12] Id., Article 291(5).

[13] Id., Article 895(2nd and 3rd pars.).

[14] Id., Article 886.

[15] Id., Article 895 (3rd par.).

[16] Reyes v. Court of Appeals, No. L-39537, March 19, 1985, citing Alabat v. Alabat, 21 SCRA 1479 (1967); Mise v. Rodriguez, 95 Phil. 396 (1954); Magallanes v. Court of Appeals, 95 Phil. 797 (1954); Canales v. Ugarte, 91 Phil. 6 (1952); Malonda v. Malonda, 81 Phil 149 (1948); Buenaventura v. Urbano, 5 Phil. 1 (1905).