SC Allows Filipina Spouse to Prove Foreign Divorce Decree Obtained in Japan

February 6, 2020

The Supreme Court’s (SC) First Division promulgated a 13-page decision on December 5, 2019 through the ponencia of Associate Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier allowing a Filipina to properly prove the Japanese law on divorce, with the end view that she may be eventually freed from a marriage in which she is the only remaining party.

The SC granted the petition for review on certiorari filed by Juliet Rendora Moraña seeking to reverse the issuances of the Court of Appeals (CA) in In Re: Petition for Judicial Recognition of Divorce Between Minuro Takahashi and Juliet Rendora Moraña and remanded the case to the Regional Trial Court (RTC)-Branch 29, Manila for presentation in evidence of the pertinent Japanese law on divorce following the procedure in Racho v. Tanaka (G.R. No. 199515, June 25, 2018); and thereafter, the court shall render a new decision on the merits.

The SC underscored that in Racho, the Japanese law on divorce was duly proved through a copy of the English Version of the Civil Code of Japan translated under the authorization of the Ministry of Justice and the Code of Translation Committee. The SC highlighted that considering that the fact of divorce was duly proved in this case, the higher interest of substantial justice compels that petitioner, Juliet, be afforded the chance to properly prove the Japanese law on divorce, which will finally release her from a union declared inexistent under the divorce law of Japan.

The SC also held that a foreign decree of divorce may be recognized in the Philippines although it was the Filipino spouse who obtained the same. In justifying this, the Court cited the case of Republic v. Manalo (G.R. No. 221029, April 24, 2018), which emphasized that even if it was the Filipino spouse who initiated and obtained the divorce decree, the same may be recognized in the Philippines. Further, the SC referred to the case of Racho where the Court enunciated that the prohibition on Filipinos from participating in divorce proceedings will not be protecting our own nationals. Thus, even if it was Juliet herself or jointly with her Japanese husband, Minuro, who applied for and obtained the divorce decree, the same may be recognized in our jurisdiction.

Finally, the Court pronounced that time and again, it has held that the court’s primary duty is to dispense justice; and procedural rules are designed to secure and not override substantial justice. On several occasions, the court relaxed procedural rules to advance substantial justice. More so in this case because what was involved is a matter affecting the lives of Juliet and her children; the case is meritorious; the belated issuance of the Divorce Certificate was not Juliet’s fault; and the relaxation of the rules will not prejudice the State.

Juliet and Minuro were married in San Juan, Metro Manila in 2002. Two kids and ten years after, the couple became estranged. Minuro refused to give support to their children and started cohabiting with another woman. Minuro then suggested they secure a divorce so the Japanese government would give financial assistance to their children and send them to school. Believing it was for the good of their children, Juliet agreed to divorce her Japanese husband, Minuro. Consequently, they jointly applied for divorce before the Office of the Mayor of Fukuyama City, Japan. The Office of the Mayor of Fukuyama City granted their application for divorce and issued the corresponding Divorce Report. Juliet then filed with the RTC an action for recognition of the Divorce Report issued by the Office of the Mayor of Fukuyama City. Records show that she identified, presented, and formally offered in evidence the Divorce Report. Both the RTC and CA, nonetheless, declined to consider the Divorce Report as the Divorce Decree itself. According to the RTC, the Divorce Report was “limited to the report of the divorce granted to the parties.” On the other hand, the CA held that the Divorce Report “cannot be considered as [an] act of an official body or tribunal as would constitute the divorce decree contemplated by the Rules.”

Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa wrote a two-page Separate Concurring Opinion.

(G.R. No. 227605, In Re: Petition for Judicial Recognition of Divorce Between Minuro Takahashi and Juliet Rendora Moraña, December 5, 2019)