FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. No. 114742. July 17, 1997]

CARLITOS E. SILVA, petitioner, vs. HON. COURT OF APPEALS and SUZANNE T. GONZALES, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

VITUG, J.:

Parents have the natural right, as well as the moral and legal duty, to care for their children, see to their proper upbringing and safeguard their best interest and welfare. This authority and responsibility may not be unduly denied the parents; neither may it be renounced by them. Even when the parents are estranged and their affection for each other is lost, the attachment and feeling for their offsprings invariably remain unchanged. Neither the law nor the courts allow this affinity to suffer absent, of course, any real, grave and imminent threat to the well-being of the child.

The petition bears upon this concern.

Carlitos E. Silva, a married businessman, and Suzanne T. Gonzales, an unmarried local actress, cohabited without the benefit of marriage. The union saw the birth of two children: Ramon Carlos and Rica Natalia. Not very long after, a rift in their relationship surfaced. It began, according to Silva, when Gonzales decided to resume her acting career over his vigorous objections. The assertion was quickly refuted by Gonzales who claimed that she, in fact, had never stopped working throughout their relationship. At any rate, the two eventually parted ways.

The instant controversy was spawned, in February 1986, by the refusal of Gonzales to allow Silva, in apparent contravention of a previous understanding, to have the children in his company on weekends. Silva filed a petition for custodial rights over the children before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 78, of Quezon City. The petition was opposed by Gonzales who averred that Silva often engaged in "gambling and womanizing" which she feared could affect the moral and social values of the children.

In an order, dated 07 April 1989, the trial court adjudged:

"WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is rendered directing respondent to allow herein petitioner visitorial rights to his children during Saturdays and/or Sundays, but in no case should he take out the children without the written consent of the mother or respondent herein. No pronouncement as to costs."[1]

Silva appeared somehow satisfied with the judgment for only Gonzales interposed an appeal from the RTCs order to the Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, Gonzales got married to a Dutch national. The newlyweds emigrated to Holland with Ramon Carlos and Rica Natalia.

On 23 September 1993, the appellate tribunal ruled in favor of Gonzales; it held:

"In all questions, regarding the care, custody, education and property of the child, his welfare shall be the paramount consideration' - not the welfare of the parents (Art. 8, PD 603). Under the predicament and/or status of both petitioner-appellee and respondent-appellant, We find it more wholesome morally and emotionally for the children if we put a stop to the rotation of custody of said children. Allowing these children to stay with their mother on weekdays and then with their father and the latter's live-in partner on weekends may not be conducive to a normal up-bringing of children of tender age. There is no telling how this kind of set-up, no matter how temporary and/or remote, would affect the moral and emotional conditions of the minor children. Knowing that they are illegitimate is hard enough, but having to live with it, witnessing their father living with a woman not their mother may have a more damaging effect upon them.

"Article 3 of PD 603, otherwise known as the Child and Youth Welfare Code, provides in part:

"`Art. 3. Rights of the Child. - x x x

`(1) x x x

`(2) x x x

`(3) x x x

`(4) x x x

`(5) Every child has the right to be brought up in an atmosphere of morality and rectitude for the enrichment and the strengthening of his character.

`(6) x x x

`(7) x x x

`(8) Every child has the right to protection against exploitation, improper influences, hazards and other conditions or circumstances prejudicial to his physical, mental, emotional, social and moral development.

`x x x'

"With Articles 3 and 8 of PD 603, in mind, We find it to the best interest of the minor children, to deny visitorial and/or temporary custodial rights to the father, even at the expense of hurting said parent. After all, if indeed his love for the children is genuine and more divine than the love for himself, a little self-sacrifice and self-denial may bring more benefit to the children. While petitioner-appellee, as father, may not intentionally prejudice the children by improper influence, what the children may witness and hear while in their father's house may not be in keeping with the atmosphere of morality and rectitude where they should be brought up.

"The children concerned are still in their early formative years of life. The molding of the character of the child starts at home. A home with only one parent is more normal than two separate houses - (one house where one parent lives and another house where the other parent with another woman/man lives). After all, under Article 176 of the Family Code, illegitimate children are supposed to use the surname of and shall be under the parental authority of their mother.

"The child is one of the most important assets of the nation. It is thus important we be careful in rearing the children especially so if they are illegitimates, as in this case.

"WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered giving due course to the appeal. The Order of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City dated April 7, 1989 is hereby reversed. Petitioner-appellee's petition for visitorial rights is hereby denied.

"SO ORDERED."[2]

Silva comes to this Court for relief.

The issue before us is not really a question of child custody; instead, the case merely concerns the visitation right of a parent over his children which the trial court has adjudged in favor of petitioner by holding that he shall have visitorial rights to his children during Saturdays and/or Sundays, but in no case (could) he take out the children without the written consent of the mother x x x." The visitation right referred to is the right of access of a noncustodial parent to his or her child or children.[3]

There is, despite a dearth of specific legal provisions, enough recognition on the inherent and natural right of parents over their children. Article 150 of the Family Code expresses that "(f)amily relations include those x x x (2) (b)etween parents and children; x x x." Article 209, in relation to Article 220, of the Code states that it is the natural right and duty of parents and those exercising parental authority to, among other things, keep children in their company and to give them love and affection, advice and counsel, companionship and understanding. The Constitution itself speaks in terms of the "natural and primary rights of parents in the rearing of the youth.[4] There is nothing conclusive to indicate that these provisions are meant to solely address themselves to legitimate relationships. Indeed, although in varying degrees, the laws on support and successional rights, by way of examples, clearly go beyond the legitimate members of the family and so explicitly encompass illegitimate relationships as well.[5] Then, too, and most importantly, in the declaration of nullity of marriages, a situation that presupposes a void or inexistent marriage, Article 49 of the Family Code provides for appropriate visitation rights to parents who are not given custody of their children.

There is no doubt that in all cases involving a child, his interest and welfare is always the paramount consideration. The Court shares the view of the Solicitor General, who has recommended due course to the petition, that a few hours spent by petitioner with the children, however, could not all be that detrimental to the children. Similarly, what the trial court has observed is not entirely without merit; thus:

"The allegations of respondent against the character of petitioner, even assuming as true, cannot be taken as sufficient basis to render petitioner an unfit father. The fears expressed by respondent to the effect that petitioner shall be able to corrupt and degrade their children once allowed to even temporarily associate with petitioner is but the product of respondent's unfounded imagination, for no man, bereft of all moral persuasions and goodness, would ever take the trouble and expense in instituting a legal action for the purpose of seeing his illegitimate children. It can just be imagined the deep sorrows of a father who is deprived of his children of tender ages."[6]

The Court appreciates the apprehensions of private respondent and their well-meant concern for the children; nevertheless, it seems unlikely that petitioner would have ulterior motives or undue designs more than a parents natural desire to be able to call on, even if it were only on brief visits, his own children. The trial court, in any case, has seen it fit to understandably provide this precautionary measure, i.e., "in no case (can petitioner) take out the children without the written consent of the mother."

WHEREFORE, the decision of the trial court is REINSTATED, reversing thereby the judgment of the appellate court which is hereby SET ASIDE. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Padilla, Bellosillo, and Kapunan, JJ., concur.

Hermosisima, Jr., J., on leave.



[1] Rollo, p. 29.

[2] Rollo, pp. 22-23.

[3] See Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth edition, p. 1572.

[4] Art. II, Sec. 12, 1987 Constitution.

[5] Arts. 176, 195 Family Code.

[6] Rollo, p. 29.