Veronico Tenebro has been charged with bigamy for contracting, while still being married to Hilda Villareyes, a second marriage with private complainant Leticia Ancajas. Tenebro argues that since his second marriage with Ancajas has ultimately been declared void ab initio on the ground of the latter’s psychological incapacity, he should be acquitted for the crime of bigamy.
The offense of bigamy is committed when one contracts “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”.1 Bigamy presupposes a valid prior marriage and a subsequent marriage, contracted during the subsistence of the prior union, which would have been binding were it not for its being bigamous.
Would the absolute nullity of either the first or the second marriage, prior to its judicial declaration as being void, constitute a valid defense in a criminal action for bigamy?
I believe that, except for a void marriage on account of the psychological incapacity of a party or both parties to the marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code (as so hereinafter explained), the answer must be in the affirmative. Void marriages are inexistent from the very beginning, and no judicial decree is required to establish their nullity.2 As early as the case of People vs. Aragon3 this Court has underscored the fact that the Revised Penal Code itself does not, unlike the rule then prevailing in Spain, require the judicial declaration of nullity of a prior void marriage before it can be raised by way of a defense in a criminal case for bigamy. Had the law contemplated otherwise, said the Court, “ an express provision to that effect would or should have been inserted in the law, (but that in) its absence, (the courts) are bound by (the) rule of strict interpretation” of penal statutes. In contrast to a voidable marriage which legally exists until judicially annulled (and, therefore, not a defense in a bigamy charge if the second marriage were contracted prior to the decree of annulment)4 the complete nullity, however, of a previously contracted marriage, being void ab initio and legally inexistent, can outrightly be defense in an indictment of bigamy.
It has been held that, by virtue of Article 40 of the Family Code, a person may be convicted of bigamy although the first marriage is ultimately adjudged void ab initio if, at the time the second marriage is contracted, there has as yet no judicial declaration of nullity of the prior marriage.5 I maintain strong reservations to this ruling. Article 40 of the Family Code reads:
“Article 40. The absolute nullity of the previous marriage may be invoked for purposes of remarriage on the basis solely of the final judgment declaring such previous marriage void.”
It is only “for purpose of remarriage” that the law has expressed that the absolute nullity of the previous marriage may be invoked “on the basis solely of the final judgment declaring such previous marriage void.” It may not be amiss to state that under the regime of the Civil Code of 1950, the Supreme Court, in Wiegel vs. Judge Sempio-Diy,6 has held that a subsequent marriage of one of the spouses of a prior void marriage is itself (the subsequent marriage) void if it were contracted before a judicial declaration of nullity of the previous marriage. Although this pronouncement has been abandoned in a later decision of the court in Yap vs. Court of Appeals,7 the Family Code, however has seen it fit to adopt the Wiegel rule but only for purpose of remarriage which is just to say that the subsequent marriage shall itself be considered void. There is no clear indication to conclude that the Family Code has amended or intended to amend the Revised penal Code or to abandon the settled and prevailing jurisprudence on the matter.8
A void marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code is a class by itself. The provision has been from Canon law primarily to reconcile the grounds for nullity of marriage under civil law with those of church laws.9 The “psychological incapacity to comply” with the essential marital obligations of the spouses is completely distinct from other grounds for nullity which are confined to the essential or formal requisites of a marriage, such as lack of legal capacity or disqualification of the contracting parties, want of consent, absence of a marriage license, or the like.
The effects of a marriage attended by psychological incapacity of a party or the parties thereto may be said to have the earmarks of a voidable, more than a void, marriage, remaining to be valid until it is judicially decreed to be a nullity. Thus, Article 54 of the Family Code considers children conceived or born of such a void marriage before its judicial declaration of nullity to be legitimate similar to the rule on a voidable marriage. It is expected, even as I believe it safe to assume, that the spouses’ rights and obligations, property regime and successional rights would continue unaffected, as if it were a voidable marriage, unless and until the marriage is judicially declared void for basically two reasons: First, psychological incapacity, a newly-added ground for the nullity of a marriage under the Family Code, breaches neither the essential nor the formal requisites of a valid marriages;10 and second, unlike the other grounds for nullity of marriage (i.e., relationship, minority of the parties, lack of license, mistake in the identity of the parties) which are capable of relatively easy demonstration, psychological incapacity, however, being a mental state, may not so readily be as evident.11 It would have been logical for the Family Code to consider such a marriage explicitly voidable rather than void if it were not for apparent attempt to make it closely coincide with the Canon Law rules and nomenclature.
Indeed, a void marriage due to psychological incapacity appears to merely differ from a voidable marriage in that, unlike the latter, it is not convalidated by either cohabitation or prescription. It might be recalled that prior to republic Act No. 8533, further amending the Family Code, an action or defense of absolute nullity of marriage falling under Article 36, celebrated before the effectivity of the Code, could prescribe in ten years following the effectivity of the Family Code. The initial provision of the ten-year period of prescription seems to betray a real consciousness by the framers that marriages falling under Article 36 are truly meant to be inexistent.
Considerations, both logical and practical, would point to the fact that a “void” marriage due to psychological incapacity remains, for all intents and purposes, to be binding and efficacious until judicially declared otherwise. Without such marriage having first been declared a nullity (or otherwise dissolved), a subsequent marriage could constitute bigamy. Thus, a civil case questioning the validity of the first marriage would not be a prejudicial issue much in the same way that a civil case assailing a prior “voidable” marriage (being valid until annulled) would not be a prejudicial question to the prosecution of a criminal offense for bigamy.
In cases where the second marriage is void on grounds other than the existence of the first marriage, this Court has declared in a line of cases that no crime of bigamy is committed.12 The Court has explained that for a person to be held guilty of bigamy, it must, even as it needs only, be shown that the subsequent marriage has all the essential elements of a valid marriage, were it not for the subsisting first union. Hence, where it is established that the second marriage has been contracted without the necessary license and thus void,13 or that the accused is merely forced to enter into the second (voidable) marriage,14 no criminal liability for the crime of bigamy can attach. In both and like instances, however, the lapses refers to the elements required for contracting a valid marriage. If, then, all the requisites for the perfection of the contract marriage, freely and voluntarily entered into, are shown to be extant, the criminal liability for bigamy can unassailably arise.
Since psychological incapacity, upon the other hand, does not relate to an infirmity in the elements, either essential or formal, in contacting a valid marriage, the declaration of nullity subsequent to the bigamous marriage due to that ground, without more, would be inconsequential in a criminal charge for bigamy. The judicial declaration of nullity of a bigamous marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity merely nullifies the effects of the marriage but it does not negate the fact of perfection of the bigamous marriage. Its subsequent declaration of nullity dissolves the relationship of the spouses but, being alien to the requisite conditions for the perfection of the marriage, the judgment of the court is no defense on the part of the offender who had entered into it.
Accordingly, I vote to dismiss the petition.
1 Article 349, Revised Penal Code.
2 Odayat vs. Amante, 77 SCRA 338; see also People vs Aragon, 100 Phil. 1033.
3 100 Phil 1033.
4 See People vs. Mendoza, 50 O.G. 4767.
6 143 SCRA 499.
7 145 SCRA 229.
8 I might add, parenthetically, that the necessity of a judicial declaration of nullity of a void marriage even for purposes of remarriage should refer merely to cases when it can be said that the marriage, at least ostensibly, has taken place. For instance, no such judicial declaration of nullity would yet be required when either or both parties have not at all given consent thereto that verily results in a “no” marriage situation or when the prior “marriage” is between persons of the same sex.
9 Deliberations of the family Code Revision Committee, 9 August 1996.
10 Art. 2. No marriage shall be valid, unless these essential requisites are present:
(1) Legal capacity of the contracting parties who must be a male and a female; and
(2) Consent freely given in the presence of the solemnizing officer. (53a)
Art. 3. The formal requisites of marriage are:
(1) Authority of the solemnizing officer;
(2) A valid marriage license except in the cases provided for in Chapter 2 of this Title; and
(3) A marriage ceremony which takes place with the appearance of the contracting parties before the solemnizing officer and their personal declaration that they take other as husband and wife in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age. (53a, 55a)
Art. 4. The absence of any of the essential or formal requisites shall render the marriage void ab initio, except as stated in Article 35(2).
A defect in any of the essential requisites shall not affect the validity of the marriage but the party or parties responsible for the irregularity shall be civilly, criminally and administratively liable. (n)
11 One might observe that insanity, which could be worse than psychological incapacity merely renders a marriage voidable, not void.
12 De la cruz vs. Hon. Ejercito, G.R. No. L-40895, 6 November 1975, 68 SCRA 1; Merced vs. Hon. Diez, et. Al., 109 Phil 155; Zapanta vs. hon. Montessa, et. al., 144 Phil. 1227; People vs. Mora Dumpo, 62 Phil 246; People vs. Lara, 51 O. G. 4079.
13 People vs. Lara, supra.
14 De la Cruz vs. Hon. Ejercito, supra; Merced vs. Hon. Diez, supra.