In the very recent case of ROMMEL JACINTO DANTES SILVERIO vs. REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 174689, October 22, 2007, the Supreme Court held that the law does not recognize “the changes made by a physician using scalpel, drugs and counseling with regard to a person’s sex”, and that a person may not successfully petition for “a change of name and sex appearing in the birth certificate to reflect the result of a sex reassignment surgery. This is a landmark ruling.
On November 26, 2002, petitioner Rommel Jacinto Dantes Silverio filed a petition for the change of his first name and sex in his birth certificate in the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 8. Petitioner alleged in his petition that he was born in the City of Manila to the spouses Melecio Petines Silverio and Anita Aquino Dantes on April 4, 1962. His name was registered as “Rommel Jacinto Dantes Silverio” in his certificate of live birth (birth certificate). His sex was registered as “male.” He further alleged that he is a male transsexual, that is, “anatomically male but feels, thinks and acts as a female” and that he had always identified himself with girls since childhood. Feeling trapped in a man’s body, he consulted several doctors in the United States. He underwent psychological examination, hormone treatment and breast augmentation. His attempts to transform himself to a “woman” culminated on January 27, 2001 when he underwent sex reassignment surgery in Bangkok, Thailand. He was thereafter examined by Dr. Marcelino Reysio-Cruz, Jr., a plastic and reconstruction surgeon in the Philippines, who issued a medical certificate attesting that he (petitioner) had in fact undergone the procedure. From then on, petitioner lived as a female and was in fact engaged to be married. He then sought to have his name in his birth certificate changed from “Rommel Jacinto” to “Mely,” and his sex from “male” to “female.”
During trial, petitioner testified for himself. He also presented Dr. Reysio-Cruz, Jr. and his American fiancé, Richard P. Edel, as witnesses.
Petitioner filed the present petition not to evade any law or judgment or any infraction thereof or for any unlawful motive but solely for the purpose of making his birth records compatible with his present sex.
The sole issue here is whether or not petitioner is entitled to the relief asked for.
The [c]ourt rules in the affirmative.
Firstly, the [c]ourt is of the opinion that granting the petition would be more in consonance with the principles of justice and equity. With his sexual [re-assignment], petitioner, who has always felt, thought and acted like a woman, now possesses the physique of a female. Petitioner’s misfortune to be trapped in a man’s body is not his own doing and should not be in any way taken against him.
Likewise, the [c]ourt believes that no harm, injury [or] prejudice will be caused to anybody or the community in granting the petition. On the contrary, granting the petition would bring the much-awaited happiness on the part of the petitioner and her [fiancé] and the realization of their dreams.
Finally, no evidence was presented to show any cause or ground to deny the present petition despite due notice and publication thereof. Even the State, through the [OSG] has not seen fit to interpose any [o]pposition.
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered GRANTING the petition and ordering the Civil Registrar of Manila to change the entries appearing in the Certificate of Birth of [p]etitioner, specifically for petitioner’s first name from “Rommel Jacinto” to MELY and petitioner’s gender from “Male” to FEMALE.
The Republic of the Philippines (Republic), thru the OSG, filed a petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals. It alleged that there is no law allowing the change of entries in the birth certificate by reason of sex alteration.
The Court of Appeals rendered a decision in favor of the Republic. It ruled that the trial court’s decision lacked legal basis. There is no law allowing the change of either name or sex in the certificate of birth on the ground of sex reassignment through surgery. Thus, the Court of Appeals granted the Republic’s petition, set aside the decision of the trial court and ordered the dismissal of SP Case No. 02-105207.
In sum, the petitioner essentially claims that the change of his name and sex in his birth certificate is allowed under Articles 407 to 413 of the Civil Code, Rules 103 and 108 of the Rules of Court and RA 9048.
The Supreme Court held that the State has an interest in the names borne by individuals and entities for purposes of identification. A change of name is a privilege, not a right. Petitions for change of name are controlled by statutes. In this connection, Article 376 of the Civil Code provides:
ART. 376. No person can change his name or surname without judicial authority.
This Civil Code provision was amended by RA 9048 (Clerical Error Law). In particular, Section 1 of RA 9048 provides:
SECTION 1. Authority to Correct Clerical or Typographical Error and Change of First Name or Nickname. – No entry in a civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order, except for clerical or typographical errors and change of first name or nickname which can be corrected or changed by the concerned city or municipal civil registrar or consul general in accordance with the provisions of this Act and its implementing rules and regulations.
RA 9048 now governs the change of first name. It vests the power and authority to entertain petitions for change of first name to the city or municipal civil registrar or consul general concerned. Under the law, therefore, jurisdiction over applications for change of first name is now primarily lodged with the aforementioned administrative officers. The intent and effect of the law is to exclude the change of first name from the coverage of Rules 103 (Change of Name) and 108 (Cancellation or Correction of Entries in the Civil Registry) of the Rules of Court, until and unless an administrative petition for change of name is first filed and subsequently denied. It likewise lays down the corresponding venue, form and procedure. In sum, the remedy and the proceedings regulating change of first name are primarily administrative in nature, not judicial.
RA 9048 likewise provides the grounds for which change of first name may be allowed:
SECTION 4. Grounds for Change of First Name or Nickname. – The petition for change of first name or nickname may be allowed in any of the following cases:
(1) The petitioner finds the first name or nickname to be ridiculous, tainted with dishonor or extremely difficult to write or pronounce;
(2) The new first name or nickname has been habitually and continuously used by the petitioner and he has been publicly known by that first name or nickname in the community; or
(3) The change will avoid confusion.
Petitioner’s basis in praying for the change of his first name was his sex reassignment. He intended to make his first name compatible with the sex he thought he transformed himself into through surgery. In this regard, the Supreme Court held that a change of name does not alter one’s legal capacity or civil status. RA 9048 does not sanction a change of first name on the ground of sex reassignment. Rather than avoiding confusion, changing petitioner’s first name for his declared purpose may only create grave complications in the civil registry and the public interest.
The Court added that before a person can legally change his given name, he must present proper or reasonable cause or any compelling reason justifying such change. In addition, he must show that he will be prejudiced by the use of his true and official name. In this case, he failed to show, or even allege, any prejudice that he might suffer as a result of using his true and official name.
ART. 412. No entry in the civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order.
Together with Article 376 of the Civil Code, this provision was amended by RA 9048 in so far as clerical or typographical errors are involved. The correction or change of such matters can now be made through administrative proceedings and without the need for a judicial order. In effect, RA 9048 removed from the ambit of Rule 108 of the Rules of Court the correction of such errors. Rule 108 now applies only to substantial changes and corrections in entries in the civil register.
Section 2(c) of RA 9048 defines what a “clerical or typographical error” is:
SECTION 2. Definition of Terms. – As used in this Act, the following terms shall mean:
xxx xxx xxx
(3) “Clerical or typographical error” refers to a mistake committed in the performance of clerical work in writing, copying, transcribing or typing an entry in the civil register that is harmless and innocuous, such as misspelled name or misspelled place of birth or the like, which is visible to the eyes or obvious to the understanding, and can be corrected or changed only by reference to other existing record or records: Provided, however, That no correction must involve the change of nationality, age, status or sex of the petitioner. (emphasis supplied)
The Court stressed that under RA 9048, a correction in the civil registry involving the change of sex is not a mere clerical or typographical error. It is a substantial change for which the applicable procedure is Rule 108 of the Rules of Court.
ART. 407. Acts, events and judicial decrees concerning the civil status of persons shall be recorded in the civil register.
ART. 408. The following shall be entered in the civil register:
(1) Births; (2) marriages; (3) deaths; (4) legal separations; (5) annulments of marriage; (6) judgments declaring marriages void from the beginning; (7) legitimations; (8) adoptions; (9) acknowledgments of natural children; (10) naturalization; (11) loss, or (12) recovery of citizenship; (13) civil interdiction; (14) judicial determination of filiation; (15) voluntary emancipation of a minor; and (16) changes of name.
The acts, events or factual errors contemplated under Article 407 of the Civil Code include even those that occur after birth. However, no reasonable interpretation of the provision can justify the conclusion that it covers the correction on the ground of sex reassignment, the Court held.
To correct simply means “to make or set aright; to remove the faults or error from” while to change means “to replace something with something else of the same kind or with something that serves as a substitute.” The birth certificate of petitioner contained no error. All entries therein, including those corresponding to his first name and sex, were all correct. No correction is necessary.
Article 407 of the Civil Code authorizes the entry in the civil registry of certain acts (such as legitimations, acknowledgments of illegitimate children and naturalization), events (such as births, marriages, naturalization and deaths) and judicial decrees (such as legal separations, annulments of marriage, declarations of nullity of marriages, adoptions, naturalization, loss or recovery of citizenship, civil interdiction, judicial determination of filiation and changes of name). These acts, events and judicial decrees produce legal consequences that touch upon the legal capacity, status and nationality of a person. Their effects are expressly sanctioned by the laws. In contrast, sex reassignment is not among those acts or events mentioned in Article 407, according to the Court. Neither is it recognized nor even mentioned by any law, expressly or impliedly.
The status of a person in law includes all his personal qualities and relations, more or less permanent in nature, not ordinarily terminable at his own will, such as his being legitimate or illegitimate, or his being married or not. The comprehensive term status… include such matters as the beginning and end of legal personality, capacity to have rights in general, family relations, and its various aspects, such as birth, legitimation, adoption, emancipation, marriage, divorce, and sometimes even succession. (emphasis supplied)
A person’s sex is an essential factor in marriage and family relations. It is a part of a person’s legal capacity and civil status. In this connection, Article 413 of the Civil Code provides:
ART. 413. All other matters pertaining to the registration of civil status shall be governed by special laws.
The Court emphasized that “there is no such special law in the Philippines governing sex reassignment and its effects”, which is fatal to petitioner’s cause.
Moreover, Section 5 of Act 3753 (the Civil Register Law) provides:
SEC. 5. Registration and certification of births. – The declaration of the physician or midwife in attendance at the birth or, in default thereof, the declaration of either parent of the newborn child, shall be sufficient for the registration of a birth in the civil register. Such declaration shall be exempt from documentary stamp tax and shall be sent to the local civil registrar not later than thirty days after the birth, by the physician or midwife in attendance at the birth or by either parent of the newborn child.
In such declaration, the person above mentioned shall certify to the following facts: (a) date and hour of birth; (b) sex and nationality of infant; (c) names, citizenship and religion of parents or, in case the father is not known, of the mother alone; (d) civil status of parents; (e) place where the infant was born; and (f) such other data as may be required in the regulations to be issued.
xxx xxx xxx (emphasis supplied)
Under the Civil Register Law, a birth certificate is a historical record of the facts as they existed at the time of birth. Thus, the sex of a person is determined at birth, visually done by the birth attendant (the physician or midwife) by examining the genitals of the infant. The Court held, further that “considering that there is no law legally recognizing sex reassignment, the determination of a person’s sex made at the time of his or her birth, if not attended by error, is immutable”.
The Court touched the issued on marriage. It held that even the trial court itself found that the petition was but petitioner’s first step towards his eventual marriage to his male fiancé. However, marriage, one of the most sacred social institutions, is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman. One of its essential requisites is the legal capacity of the contracting parties who must be a male and a female. It ruled that to grant the changes sought by petitioner will substantially reconfigure and greatly alter the laws on marriage and family relations. It will allow the union of a man with another man who has undergone sex reassignment (a male-to-female post-operative transsexual). It added that there are various laws which apply particularly to women such as the provisions of the Labor Code on employment of women, certain felonies under the Revised Penal Code and the presumption of survivorship in case of calamities under Rule 131 of the Rules of Court, among others. These laws underscore the public policy in relation to women which could be substantially affected if petitioner’s petition were to be granted.
As to the argument that Article 9 of the Civil Code mandates that “[n]o judge or court shall decline to render judgment by reason of the silence, obscurity or insufficiency of the law.”, the Court held that it is not a license for courts to engage in judicial legislation. The duty of the courts is to apply or interpret the law, not to make or amend it. According to the Court, in our system of government, “it is for the legislature, should it choose to do so, to determine what guidelines should govern the recognition of the effects of sex reassignment”.
Atty. MANUEL J. LASERNA JR.
LCM Law, Las Pinas City, Philippines