Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bigamy; elements of; good faith as a defense. - G.R. No. 145226

"x x x.

To our mind, the primordial issue should be whether or not petitioner committed bigamy and if so, whether his defense of good faith is valid.

The petitioner submits that he should not be faulted for relying in good faith upon the divorce decree of the Ontario court. He highlights the fact that he contracted the second marriage openly and publicly, which a person intent upon bigamy would not be doing. The petitioner further argues that his lack of criminal intent is material to a conviction or acquittal in the instant case. The crime of bigamy, just like other felonies punished under the Revised Penal Code, ismala in se, and hence, good faith and lack of criminal intent are allowed as a complete defense. He stresses that there is a difference between the intent to commit the crime and the intent to perpetrate the act. Hence, it does not necessarily follow that his intention to contract a second marriage is tantamount to an intent to commit bigamy.

For the respondent, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) submits that good faith in the instant case is a convenient but flimsy excuse. The Solicitor General relies upon our ruling in Marbella-Bobis v. Bobis,18 which held that bigamy can be successfully prosecuted provided all the elements concur, stressing that under Article 4019 of the Family Code, a judicial declaration of nullity is a must before a party may re-marry. Whether or not the petitioner was aware of said Article 40 is of no account as everyone is presumed to know the law. The OSG counters that petitioner’s contention that he was in good faith because he relied on the divorce decree of the Ontario court is negated by his act of filing Civil Case No. 6020, seeking a judicial declaration of nullity of his marriage to Lucia.

Before we delve into petitioner’s defense of good faith and lack of criminal intent, we must first determine whether all the elements of bigamy are present in this case. In Marbella-Bobis v. Bobis,20 we laid down the elements of bigamy thus:

(1) the offender has been legally married;

(2) the first marriage has not been legally dissolved, or in case his or her spouse is absent, the absent spouse has not been judicially declared presumptively dead;

(3) he contracts a subsequent marriage; and

(4) the subsequent marriage would have been valid had it not been for the existence of the first.

x x x.

The trial court found that there was no actual marriage ceremony performed between Lucio and Lucia by a solemnizing officer. Instead, what transpired was a mere signing of the marriage contract by the two, without the presence of a solemnizing officer. The trial court thus held that the marriage is void ab initio, in accordance with Articles 322 and 423 of the Family Code. As the dissenting opinion in CA-G.R. CR No. 20700, correctly puts it, "This simply means that there was no marriage to begin with; and that such declaration of nullity retroacts to the date of the first marriage. In other words, for all intents and purposes, reckoned from the date of the declaration of the first marriage as void ab initio to the date of the celebration of the first marriage, the accused was, under the eyes of the law, never married."24 The records show that no appeal was taken from the decision of the trial court in Civil Case No. 6020, hence, the decision had long become final and executory.

The first element of bigamy as a crime requires that the accused must have been legally married. But in this case, legally speaking, the petitioner was never married to Lucia Barrete. Thus, there is no first marriage to speak of. Under the principle of retroactivity of a marriage being declared void ab initio, the two were never married "from the beginning." The contract of marriage is null; it bears no legal effect. Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, for legal purposes, petitioner was not married to Lucia at the time he contracted the marriage with Maria Jececha. The existence and the validity of the first marriage being an essential element of the crime of bigamy, it is but logical that a conviction for said offense cannot be sustained where there is no first marriage to speak of. The petitioner, must, perforce be acquitted of the instant charge.

The present case is analogous to, but must be distinguished from Mercado v. Tan.25 In the latter case, the judicial declaration of nullity of the first marriage was likewise obtained after the second marriage was already celebrated. We held therein that:

A judicial declaration of nullity of a previous marriage is necessary before a subsequent one can be legally contracted. One who enters into a subsequent marriage without first obtaining such judicial declaration is guilty of bigamy. This principle applies even if the earlier union is characterized by statutes as "void."26

It bears stressing though that in Mercado, the first marriage was actually solemnized not just once, but twice: first before a judge where a marriage certificate was duly issued and then again six months later before a priest in religious rites. Ostensibly, at least, the first marriage appeared to have transpired, although later declared void ab initio.

In the instant case, however, no marriage ceremony at all was performed by a duly authorized solemnizing officer. Petitioner and Lucia Barrete merely signed a marriage contract on their own. The mere private act of signing a marriage contract bears no semblance to a valid marriage and thus, needs no judicial declaration of nullity. Such act alone, without more, cannot be deemed to constitute an ostensibly valid marriage for which petitioner might be held liable for bigamy unless he first secures a judicial declaration of nullity before he contracts a subsequent marriage.

The law abhors an injustice and the Court is mandated to liberally construe a penal statute in favor of an accused and weigh every circumstance in favor of the presumption of innocence to ensure that justice is done. Under the circumstances of the present case, we held that petitioner has not committed bigamy. Further, we also find that we need not tarry on the issue of the validity of his defense of good faith or lack of criminal intent, which is now moot and academic.

x x x."