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Kenneth Ngo Te vs Rowena Yu Te
Article 36: Psychological Incapacity
Kenneth met Rowena in a Filipino-Chinese gathering on campus. They did not have interest with each other at first but they developed a certain degree of closeness due to the fact that they share the same angst with their families. In 1996, while still in college, Rowena proposed that they should elope. Kenneth initially refused on the ground that he is young and jobless but due to Rowena’s persistence Kenneth complied bringing with him P80K. The money soon after disappeared and they found themselves forced to return to their respective home. Subsequently, Rowena’s uncle brought the two before a court and had had them be married. After marriage, Kenneth and Rowena stayed with her uncle’s house where Kenneth was treated like a prisoner. Kenneth was advised by his dad to come home otherwise he will be disinherited. One month later, Kenneth was able to escape and he was hidden from Rowena’s family. Kenneth later contacted Rowena urging her to live with his parents instead. Rowena however suggested that he should get his inheritance so that they could live together separately or just stay with her uncle. Kenneth however was already disinherited. Upon knowing this, Rowena said that it is better if they live separate lives from then on. Four years later, Kenneth filed for an annulment of their marriage. Rowena did not file an answer. The City Prosecutor, after investigation, submitted that he cannot determine if there is collusion between the 2 parties hence the need to try the merits of the case. The opinion of an expert was sought wherein the psychologist subsequently ruled that both parties are psychologically incapacitated. The said relationship between Kenneth and Rowena is said to be undoubtedly in the wreck and weakly-founded. The break-up was caused by both parties’ unreadiness to commitment and their young age. He was still in the state of finding his fate and fighting boredom, while she was still egocentrically involved with herself. The trial court ruled that the marriage is void upon the ruling of the expert psychologist. The OSG appealed and the CA ruled in favor of the OSG. The OSG claimed that the psychological incapacity of both parties was not shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable (Molina case). The clinical psychologist did not personally examine respondent, and relied only on the information provided by petitioner. Further, the psychological incapacity was not shown to be attended by gravity, juridical antecedence and incurability. All these were requirements set forth in the Molina case to be followed as guidelines.
ISSUE: Whether or not the expert opinion of the psychologist should be admitted in lieu of the guidelines established in the landmark case of Molina.
HELD: The SC ruled that admittedly, the SC may have inappropriately imposed a set of rigid rules in ascertaining PI. So much so that the subsequent cases after Molina were ruled accordingly to the doctrine set therein. And that there is not much regard for the law’s clear intention that each case is to be treated differently, as “courts should interpret the provision on a case-to-case basis; guided by experience, the findings of experts and researchers in psychological disciplines, and by decisions of church tribunals.” The SC however is not abandoning the Molina guidelines, the SC merely reemphasized that there is need to emphasize other perspectives as well which should govern the disposition of petitions for declaration of nullity under Article 36 such as in the case at bar. The principle that each case must be judged, not on the basis of a priori assumptions, predilections or generalizations but according to its own facts. And, to repeat for emphasis, courts should interpret the provision on a case-to-case basis; guided by experience, the findings of experts and researchers in psychological disciplines, and by decisions of church tribunals.
The SC then ruled that the marriage of Kenneth and Rowena is null and void due to both parties’ psychological disorder as evidenced by the finding of the expert psychologist. Both parties being afflicted with grave, severe and incurable psychological incapacity. Kenneth cannot assume the essential marital obligations of living together, observing love, respect and fidelity and rendering help and support, for he is unable to make everyday decisions without advice from others. He is too dependent on others. Rowena cannot perform the essential marital obligations as well due to her intolerance and impulsiveness.
Set of [Strict] Standards in the Interpretation of Art 36 of the FC Established in the Molina Case (RP vs Molina)
(1) The burden of proof to show the nullity of the marriage belongs to the plaintiff. Any doubt should be resolved in favor of the existence and continuation of the marriage and against its dissolution and nullity. This is rooted in the fact that both our Constitution and our laws cherish the validity of marriage and unity of the family. Thus, our Constitution devotes an entire Article on the Family, recognizing it “as the foundation of the nation.” It decrees marriage as legally “inviolable,” thereby protecting it from dissolution at the whim of the parties. Both the family and marriage are to be “protected” by the state.
The Family Code echoes this constitutional edict on marriage and the family and emphasizes their permanence, inviolability and solidarity.
(2) The root cause of the psychological incapacity must be (a) medically or clinically identified, (b) alleged in the complaint, (c) sufficiently proven by experts and (d) clearly explained in the decision. Article 36 of the Family Code requires that the incapacity must be psychological—not physical, although its manifestations and/or symptoms may be physical. The evidence must convince the court that the parties, or one of them, was mentally or psychically ill to such an extent that the person could not have known the obligations he was assuming, or knowing them, could not have given valid assumption thereof. Although no example of such incapacity need be given here so as not to limit the application of the provision under the principle of ejusdem generis, nevertheless such root cause must be identified as a psychological illness and its incapacitating nature fully explained. Expert evidence may be given by qualified psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.
(3) The incapacity must be proven to be existing at “the time of the celebration” of the marriage. The evidence must show that the illness was existing when the parties exchanged their “I do’s.” The manifestation of the illness need not be perceivable at such time, but the illness itself must have attached at such moment, or prior thereto.
(4) Such incapacity must also be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable. Such incurability may be absolute or even relative only in regard to the other spouse, not necessarily absolutely against everyone of the same sex. Furthermore, such incapacity must be relevant to the assumption of marriage obligations, not necessarily to those not related to marriage, like the exercise of a profession or employment in a job. Hence, a pediatrician may be effective in diagnosing illnesses of children and prescribing medicine to cure them but may not be psychologically capacitated to procreate, bear and raise his/her own children as an essential obligation of marriage.
(5) Such illness must be grave enough to bring about the disability of the party to assume the essential obligations of marriage. Thus, “mild characterological peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts” cannot be accepted as root causes. The illness must be shown as downright incapacity or inability, not a refusal, neglect or difficulty, much less ill will. In other words, there is 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.
(6) The essential marital obligations must be those embraced by Articles 68 up to 71 of the Family Code as regards the husband and wife as well as Articles 220, 221 and 225 of the same Code in regard to parents and their children. Such non-complied marital obligation(s) must also be stated in the petition, proven by evidence and included in the text of the decision.
(7) Interpretations given by the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, while not controlling or decisive, should be given great respect by our courts. It is clear that Article 36 was taken by the Family Code Revision Committee from Canon 1095 of the New Code of Canon Law, which became effective in 1983 and which provides:
“The following are incapable of contracting marriage: Those who are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage due to causes of psychological nature.”
Since the purpose of including such provision in our Family Code is to harmonize our civil laws with the religious faith of our people, it stands to reason that to achieve such harmonization, great persuasive weight should be given to decisions of such appellate tribunal. Ideally— subject to our law on evidence—what is decreed as canonically invalid should also be decreed civilly void.
This is one instance where, in view of the evident source and purpose of the Family Code provision, contemporaneous religious interpretation is to be given persuasive effect. Here, the State and the Church—while remaining independent, separate and apart from each other—shall walk together in synodal cadence towards the same goal of protecting and cherishing marriage and the family as the inviolable base of the nation.
(8) The trial court must order the prosecuting attorney or fiscal and the Solicitor General to appear as counsel for the state. No decision shall be handed down unless the Solicitor General issues a certification, which will be quoted in the decision, briefly stating therein his reasons for his agreement or opposition, as the case may be, to the petition. The Solicitor General, along with the prosecuting attorney, shall submit to the court such certification within fifteen (15) days from the date the case is deemed submitted for resolution of the court. The Solicitor General shall discharge the equivalent function of the defensor vinculi contemplated under Canon 1095.
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