Edward Kenneth Ngo Te vs Rowena Yu-Te

G.R. No. 161793 – 579 SCRA 193 – Civil Law – Family Code – Article 36: Psychological Incapacity – Molina Case Merely a Guideline

Every case involving psychological incapacity must be resolved on a case-to-case basis

Note: This case relaxed the application of the Molina Guidelines

Edward Kenneth Ngo Te met Rowena Ong Gutierrez Yu in a Filipino-Chinese gathering in a school 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 to Kenneth that they should elope. Kenneth initially refused on the ground that he was still 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.

Meanwhile, 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 instead 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 a petition for annulment of his marriage with Rowena. Rowena did not file an answer. The City Prosecutor, after investigation, submitted that he cannot determine if there is collusion between the two parties. Eventually, the case was tried. 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.  Kenneth was still in the state of finding his fate and fighting boredom, while Rowena was still egocentrically involved with herself. The trial court ruled that the marriage is void upon the findings of the expert psychologist. The Solicitor General (OSG) appealed and the Court of Appeals 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 Rowena, and relied only on the information provided by Kenneth. 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 despite the guidelines established in the landmark case of Molina.

HELD: Yes, such is possible. The Supreme Court ruled that admittedly, the SC may have inappropriately imposed a set of rigid rules in ascertaining Psychological Incapacity in the Molina case. 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.

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