Thursday, April 28, 2016

Void marriage license by reason of a false affidavit of cohabitation; marriage is void ab initio.

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES vs. JOSE A. DAYOT, G.R. No. 175581, March 28, 2008; with accompanying case - FELISA TECSON-DAYOT vs. JOSE A. DAYOT, G.R. No. 179474, March 28, 2008. 

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Marriages of Under the rules of statutory construction, exceptions, as a general rule, should be strictly but reasonably construed. exceptional character are, doubtless, the exceptions to the rule on the indispensability of the formal requisite of a marriage license. They extend only so far as their language fairly warrants, and all doubts should be resolved in favor of the general provisions rather than the exception. Where a general rule is established by statute with exceptions, the court will not curtail the former or add to the latter by implication. For the exception in Article 76 to apply, it is a sine qua non thereto that the man and the woman must have attained the age of majority, and that, being unmarried, they have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years.

A strict but reasonable construction of Article 76 leaves us with no other expediency but to read the law as it is plainly written. The exception of a marriage license under Article 76 applies only to those who have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years and desire to marry each other. The Civil Code, in no ambiguous terms, places a minimum period requirement of five years of cohabitation. No other reading of the law can be had, since the language of Article 76 is precise. The minimum requisite of five years of cohabitation is an indispensability carved in the language of the law. For a marriage celebrated under Article 76 to be valid, this material fact cannot be dispensed with. It is embodied in the law not as a directory requirement, but as one that partakes of a mandatory character. It is worthy to mention that Article 76 also prescribes that the contracting parties shall state the requisite facts in an affidavit before any person authorized by law to administer oaths; and that the official, priest or minister who solemnized the marriage shall also state in an affidavit that he took steps to ascertain the ages and other qualifications of the contracting parties and that he found no legal impediment to the marriage.

It is indubitably established that Jose and Felisa have not lived together for five years at the time they executed their sworn affidavit and contracted marriage. The Republic admitted that Jose and Felisa started living together only in June 1986, or barely five months before the celebration of their marriage. The Court of Appeals also noted Felisa’s testimony that Jose was introduced to her by her neighbor, Teresita Perwel, sometime in February or March 1986 after the EDSA Revolution. The appellate court also cited Felisa’s own testimony that it was only in June 1986 when Jose commenced to live in her house.

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Therefore, the falsity of the affidavit dated 24 November 1986, executed by Jose and Felisa to exempt them from the requirement of a marriage license, is beyond question.

We cannot accept the insistence of the Republic that the falsity of the statements in the parties’ affidavit will not affect the validity of marriage, since all the essential and formal requisites were complied with. The argument deserves scant merit. Patently, it cannot be denied that the marriage between Jose and Felisa was celebrated without the formal requisite of a marriage license. Neither did Jose and Felisa meet the explicit legal requirement in Article 76, that they should have lived together as husband and wife for at least five years, so as to be excepted from the requirement of a marriage license.

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Similarly, we are not impressed by the ratiocination of the Republic that as a marriage under a license is not invalidated by the fact that the license was wrongfully obtained, so must a marriage not be invalidated by a fabricated statement that the parties have cohabited for at least five years as required by law. The contrast is flagrant. The former is with reference to an irregularity of the marriage license, and not to the absence of one. Here, there is no marriage license at all. Furthermore, the falsity of the allegation in the sworn affidavit relating to the period of Jose and Felisa’s cohabitation, which would have qualified their marriage as an exception to the requirement for a marriage license, cannot be a mere irregularity, for it refers to a quintessential fact that the law precisely required to be deposed and attested to by the parties under oath. If the essential matter in the sworn affidavit is a lie, then it is but a mere scrap of paper, without force and effect. Hence, it is as if there was no affidavit at all.

In its second assignment of error, the Republic puts forth the argument that based on equity, Jose should be denied relief because he perpetrated the fabrication, and cannot thereby profit from his wrongdoing. This is a misplaced invocation. It must be stated that equity finds no room for application where there is a law. There is a law on the ratification of marital cohabitation, which is set in precise terms under Article 76 of the Civil Code. Nonetheless, the authorities are consistent that the declaration of nullity of the parties’ marriage is without prejudice to their criminal liability.

The Republic further avers in its third assignment of error that Jose is deemed estopped from assailing the legality of his marriage for lack of a marriage license. It is claimed that Jose and Felisa had lived together from 1986 to 1990, notwithstanding Jose’s subsequent marriage to Rufina Pascual on 31 August 1990, and that it took Jose seven years before he sought the declaration of nullity; hence, estoppel had set in.

This is erroneous. An action for nullity of marriage is imprescriptible. Jose and Felisa’s marriage was celebrated sans a marriage license. No other conclusion can be reached except that it is void ab initio. In this case, the right to impugn a void marriage does not prescribe, and may be raised any time.

Lastly, to settle all doubts, jurisprudence has laid down the rule that the five-year common-law cohabitation period under Article 76 means a five-year period computed back from the date of celebration of marriage, and refers to a period of legal union had it not been for the absence of a marriage. It covers the years immediately preceding the day of the marriage, characterized by exclusivity – meaning no third party was involved at any time within the five years – and continuity that is unbroken.

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