In determining who has the rightful custody over a child, the child’s welfare is the most important consideration. The court is not bound by any legal right of a person over the child. In Sombong v. Court of Appeals, the Court held that:
The controversy does not involve the question of personal freedom, because an infant is presumed to be in the custody of someone until he attains majority age. In passing on the writ in a child custody case, the court deals with a matter of an equitable nature. Not bound by any mere legal right of parent or guardian, the court gives his or her claim to the custody of the child due weight as a claim founded on human nature and considered generally equitable and just. Therefore, these cases are decided, not on the legal right of the petitioner to be relieved from unlawful imprisonment or detention, as in the case of adults, but on the court’s view of the best interests of those whose welfare requires that they be in custody of one person or another. Hence, the court is not bound to deliver a child into the custody of any claimant or of any person, but should, in the consideration of the facts, leave it in such custody as its welfare at the time appears to require. In short, the child’s welfare is the supreme consideration.
Considering that the child’s welfare is an all-important factor in custody cases, the Child and Youth Welfare Code unequivocally provides that in all questions regarding the care and custody, among others, of the child, his welfare shall be the paramount consideration. In the same vein, the Family Code authorizes the courts to, if the welfare of the child so demands, deprive the parents concerned of parental authority over the child or adopt such measures as may be proper under the circumstances. (Emphasis supplied)
In Sombong, the Court laid down three requisites in petitions for habeas corpus involving minors: (1) the petitioner has a right of custody over the minor, (2) the respondent is withholding the rightful custody over the minor, and (3) the best interest of the minor demands that he or she be in the custody of the petitioner. In the present case, these requisites are not clearly established because the RTC hastily dismissed the action and awarded the custody of Maryl Joy to the Spouses Gallardo without conducting any trial.
The proceedings before the RTC leave so much to be desired. While a remand of the case would mean further delay, Maryl Joy’s best interest demands that proper proceedings be conducted to determine the fitness of the Spouses Gallardo to take care of her.