Civil Law

Veronico Tenebro vs Court of Appeals

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G.R. No. 150758 – 423 SCRA 272 (467 Phil. 723) – Civil Law – Family Code – Bigamy – Exists even if one marriage is declared void

Veronico Tenebro contracted marriage with Leticia Ancajas in 1990. The two lived together continuously and without interruption until the later part of 1991, when Tenebro informed Ancajas that he had been previously married to a certain Hilda Villareyes in 1986. Petitioner thereafter left the conjugal dwelling which he shared with Ancajas, stating that he was going to cohabit with Villareyes. In 1993, petitioner contracted yet another marriage with a certain Nilda Villegas. Ancajas thereafter filed a complaint for bigamy against petitioner. Villegas countered that his marriage with Villareyes cannot be proven as a fact there being no record of such. He further argued that his second marriage, with Ancajas, has been declared void ab initio due to psychological incapacity. Hence he cannot be charged for bigamy.

ISSUE: Whether or not Tenebro is guilty of bigamy.

HELD: The prosecution was able to establish the validity of the first marriage. As a second or subsequent marriage contracted during the subsistence of petitioner’s valid marriage to Villareyes, petitioner’s marriage to Ancajas would be null and void ab initio completely regardless of petitioner’s psychological capacity or incapacity. Since a marriage contracted during the subsistence of a valid marriage is automatically void, the nullity of this second marriage is not per se an argument for the avoidance of criminal liability for bigamy. Pertinently, Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code criminalizes “any person who shall contract a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings”. A plain reading of the law, therefore, would indicate that the provision penalizes the mere act of contracting a second or a subsequent marriage during the subsistence of a valid marriage.

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Separate Opinion of Justice Vitug

Justice Vitug pointed out that void ab initio marriages (except those falling under the principle of psychological incapacity) should be allowed to be used as a valid defense for bigamy. Void ab initio marriages require no judicial decree to establish their nullity. It is true that the Revised Penal Code does not require the first or second marriage to be declared void to avoid a criminal case of bigamy but this should only be applicable to voidable marriages – because again, void ab initio marriages really do not need such judicial decree.

Read Justice Vitug’s separate opinion here.

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