Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Psychological incapacity to marry not proved - G.R. No. 168335

G.R. No. 168335

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Article 36 of the Family Code provides that “a marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”[14]

In Leouel Santos v. Court of Appeals, et al.,[15] the Court first declared that psychological incapacity must be characterized by (a) gravity; (b) juridical antecedence; and (c) incurability. The defect should refer to “no less than a mental (not physical) incapacity that causes a party to be truly incognitive of the basic marital covenants that concomitantly must be assumed and discharged by the parties to the marriage.” It must be confined to “the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage.”[16] We laid down more definitive guidelines in the interpretation and application of Article 36 of the Family Code in Republic of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals and Roridel Olaviano Molina, whose salient points are footnoted below.[17] These guidelines incorporate the basic requirements we established in Santos.[18]

In Brenda B. Marcos v. Wilson G. Marcos,[19] we further clarified that it is not absolutely necessary to introduce expert opinion in a petition under Article 36 of the Family Code if the totality of evidence shows that psychological incapacity exists and its gravity, juridical antecedence, and incurability can be duly established. Thereafter, the Court promulgated A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC (Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages)[20] which provided that “the complete facts should allege the physical manifestations, if any, as are indicative of psychological incapacity at the time of the celebration of the marriage but expert opinion need not be alleged.”

Our 2009 ruling in Edward Kenneth Ngo Te v. Rowena Ong Gutierrez Yu-Te[21] placed some cloud in the continued applicability of the time-tested Molina[22] guidelines. We stated in this case that instead of serving as a guideline, Molina unintentionally became a straightjacket; it forced all cases involving psychological incapacity to fit into and be bound by it. This is contrary to the intention of the law, since no psychological incapacity case can be considered as completely on "all fours" with another.

Benjamin G. Ting v. Carmen M. Velez-Ting[23] and Jocelyn M. Suazo v. Angelito Suazo,[24] however, laid to rest any question regarding the continued applicability of Molina.[25] In these cases, we clarified that Ngo Te[26] did not abandon Molina.[27] Far from abandoning Molina,[28] Ngo Te[29] simply suggested the relaxation of its stringent requirements. We also explained that Suazo[30] that Ngo Te[31] merely stands for a more flexible approach in considering petitions for declaration of nullity of marriages based on psychological incapacity.[32]

The Present Case

In the present case and using the above guidelines, we find the totality of the respondent’s evidence – the testimonies of the respondent and the psychologist, and the latter’s psychological report and evaluation –insufficient to prove Juvy’s psychological incapacity pursuant to Article 36 of the Family Code.

a. The respondent’s testimony

The respondent’s testimony merely showed that Juvy: (a) refused to wake up early to prepare breakfast; (b) left their child to the care of their neighbors when she went out of the house; (c) squandered a huge amount of the P15,000.00 that the respondent entrusted to her; (d) stole the respondent’s ATM card and attempted to withdraw the money deposited in his account; (e) falsified the respondent’s signature in order to encash a check; (f) made up false stories in order to borrow money from their relatives; and (g) indulged in gambling.

These acts, to our mind, do not per se rise to the level of psychological incapacity that the law requires. We stress that psychological incapacity must be more than just a "difficulty," "refusal" or "neglect" in the performance of some marital obligations. In Republic of the Philippines v. Norma Cuison-Melgar, et al.,[33] we ruled that it is not enough to prove that a spouse failed to meet his responsibility and duty as a married person; it is essential that he or she must be shown to be incapable of doing so because of some psychological, not physical, illness. In other words, proof of a natal or supervening disabling factor in the person – an adverse integral element in the personality structure that effectively incapacitates the person from really accepting and thereby complying with the obligations essential to marriage – had to be shown.[34] A cause has to be shown and linked with the manifestations of the psychological incapacity.

The respondent’s testimony failed to show that Juvy’s condition is a manifestation of a disordered personality rooted in some incapacitating or debilitating psychological condition that rendered her unable to discharge her essential marital obligation. In this light, the acts attributed to Juvy only showed indications of immaturity and lack of sense of responsibility, resulting in nothing more than the difficulty, refusal or neglect in the performance of marital obligations. In Ricardo B. Toring v. Teresita M. Toring,[35] we emphasized that irreconcilable differences, sexual infidelity or perversion, emotional immaturity and irresponsibility, and the like do not by themselves warrant a finding of psychological incapacity, as these may only be due to a person's difficulty, refusal or neglect to undertake the obligations of marriage that is not rooted in some psychological illness that Article 36 of the Family Code addresses.

In like manner, Juvy’s acts of falsifying the respondent’s signature to encash a check, of stealing the respondent’s ATM, and of squandering a huge portion of the P15,000.00 that the respondent entrusted to her, while no doubt reprehensible, cannot automatically be equated with a psychological disorder, especially when the evidence shows that these were mere isolated incidents and not recurring acts. Neither can Juvy’s penchant for playing mahjong and kuwaho for money, nor her act of soliciting money from relatives on the pretext that her child was sick, warrant a conclusion that she suffered from a mental malady at the time of the celebration of marriage that rendered her incapable of fulfilling her marital duties and obligations. The respondent, in fact, admitted that Juvy engaged in these behaviors (gambling and what the respondent refers to as “swindling”) only two (2) years after their marriage, and after he let her handle his salary and manage their finances. The evidence also shows that Juvy even tried to augment the family’s income during the early stages of their marriage by putting up a sari-sari store and by working as a manicurist.

b. The Psychologist’s Report

The submitted psychological report hardly helps the respondent’s cause, as it glaringly failed to establish that Juvy was psychologically incapacitated to perform her essential marital duties at the material time required by Article 36 of the Family Code.

To begin with, the psychologist admitted in her report that she derived her conclusions exclusively from the information given her by the respondent. Expectedly, the respondent’s description of Juvy would contain a considerable degree of bias; thus, a psychological evaluation based on this one-sided description alone can hardly be considered as credible or sufficient. We are of course aware of our pronouncement in Marcos[36] that the person sought to be declared psychologically incapacitated need not be examined by the psychologist as a condition precedent to arrive at a conclusion. If the incapacity can be proven by independent means, no reason exists why such independent proof cannot be admitted to support a conclusion of psychological incapacity, independently of a psychologist’s examination and report. In this case, however, no such independent evidence has ever been gathered and adduced. To be sure, evidence from independent sources who intimately knew Juvy before and after the celebration of her marriage would have made a lot of difference and could have added weight to the psychologist’s report.

Separately from the lack of the requisite factual basis, the psychologist’s report simply stressed Juvy’s negative traits which she considered manifestations of Juvy’s psychological incapacity (e.g., laziness, immaturity and irresponsibility; her involvement in swindling and gambling activities; and her lack of initiative to change), and declared that “psychological findings tend to confirm that the defendant suffers from personality and behavioral disorders x x x she doesn’t manifest any sense of responsibility and loyalty, and these disorders appear to be incorrigible.”[37] In the end, the psychologist opined – without stating the psychological basis for her conclusion – that “there is sufficient reason to believe that the defendant wife is psychologically incapacitated to perform her marital duties as a wife and mother to their only son.”[38]

We find this kind of conclusion and report grossly inadequate. First, we note that the psychologist did not even identify the types of psychological tests which she administered on the respondent and the root cause of Juvy’s psychological condition. We also stress that the acts alleged to have been committed by Juvy all occurred during the marriage; there was no showing that any mental disorder existed at the inception of the marriage. Second, the report failed to prove the gravity or severity of Juvy’s alleged condition, specifically, why and to what extent the disorder is serious, and how it incapacitated her to comply with her marital duties. Significantly, the report did not even categorically state the particular type of personality disorder found. Finally, the report failed to establish the incurability of Juvy’s condition. The report’s pronouncements that Juvy “lacks the initiative to change” and that her mental incapacity “appears incorrigible”[39] are insufficient to prove that her mental condition could not be treated, or if it were otherwise, the cure would be beyond her means to undertake.

c. The Psychologist’s Testimony

The psychologist’s court testimony fared no better in proving the juridical antecedence, gravity or incurability of Juvy’s alleged psychological defect as she merely reiterated what she wrote in her report – i.e., that Juvy was lazy and irresponsible; played mahjong and kuhawo for money; stole money from the respondent; deceived people to borrow cash; and neglected her child – without linking these to an underlying psychological cause. Again, these allegations, even if true, all occurred during the marriage. The testimony was totally devoid of any information or insight into Juvy’s early life and associations, how she acted before and at the time of the marriage, and how the symptoms of a disordered personality developed. Simply put, the psychologist failed to trace the history of Juvy’s psychological condition and to relate it to an existing incapacity at the time of the celebration of the marriage.

She, likewise, failed to successfully prove the elements of gravity and incurability. In these respects, she merely stated that despite the respondent’s efforts to show love and affection, Juvy was hesitant to change. From this premise, she jumped to the conclusion that Juvy appeared to be incurable or incorrigible, and would be very hard to cure. These unfounded conclusions cannot be equated with gravity or incurability that Article 36 of the Family Code requires. To be declared clinically or medically incurable is one thing; to refuse or be reluctant to change is another. To hark back to what we earlier discussed, psychological incapacity refers only to the most serious cases of personality disorders clearly demonstrative of an utter insensitivity or inability to give meaning and significance to the marriage.[40]

The Constitution sets out a policy of protecting and strengthening the family as the basic social institution, and marriage is the foundation of the family. Marriage, as an inviolable institution protected by the State, cannot be dissolved at the whim of the parties. In petitions for the declaration of nullity of marriage, the burden of proof to show the nullity of marriage lies with the plaintiff.[41] Unless the evidence presented clearly reveals a situation where the parties, or one of them, could not have validly entered into a marriage by reason of a grave and serious psychological illness existing at the time it was celebrated, we are compelled to uphold the indissolubility of the marital tie.[42]
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