SC Reiterates: Substantial Changes in Birth Certificate Require Adversary Proceedings

October 5, 2021

When the changes to be made in a certificate of live birth (COLB) are substantial such as legitimacy or citizenship status, such must be resolved through the appropriate adversary proceedings under Rule 108 of the Rules of Court and not through a mere petition for correction of entries.

Thus stressed the Supreme Court in its Decision dismissing the petition for correction of entries and cancellation of annotation in the COLB of petitioner Eduardo Santos. The dismissal, however, was without prejudice to Eduardo’s re-filing of a petition to change his surname to that of his mother.

In his petition, Eduardo sought to correct his records in the civil registry to reflect his surname as “Santos” instead of “Cu,” his nationality as “Filipino” instead of “Chinese,” his filiation as “illegitimate” instead of “legitimate,” and his mother’s civil status as “single” instead of “married.” He impleaded as respondents the Local Civil Registrar of Manila, the National Statistics Office, and all persons who would be affected by the proceedings.

Citing the 1986 case of Republic v. Valencia, the Court’s First Division clarified that a petition for correction of entry under Rule 108 of the Rules covers not only clerical errors, but also substantial changes. The difference lies only on the procedure which would govern the correction sought. Also citing the 2018 Republic v. Tipay, the Court clarified the difference that “if the correction is clerical, then the procedure to be adopted is summary. If the rectification affects the civil status, citizenship or nationality of a party, it is deemed substantial, and the procedure to be adopted is adversary.”

In the case at bar, the Court held that the changes sought to be reflected are substantial and may only be resolved through the appropriate adversary proceedings under Rule 108.

“What Eduardo seeks to correct are not mere clerical errors as the changes sought to be carried out are substantial. It is not a simple or negligible matter of correcting a single letter in his surname due to a misspelling. Rather, Eduardo’s filiation, status, and citizenship will be gravely affected. This will affect not only his identity, but his successional rights as well,” held the Court in the Decision penned by Justice Rosmari D. Carandang.

The Court further held that considering the nature of the changes sought to be reflected in the COLB, Rule 108 requires that the proper

parties be impleaded and that the order fixing the time and place for hearing the petition be published. The persons who must be made parties to a proceeding concerning the cancellation or correction of an entry in the civil register are: 1) the civil registrar; and 2) all persons who have or claim any interest which would be affected thereby.

The Court held that while the civil registrar was properly impleaded, “Eduardo failed to demonstrate to the Court that he exerted earnest efforts in bringing to court all possible interested parties, including his siblings, their descendants, and the purported Chinese wife of his father.” The Court further ruled that Eduardo’s act of simply alleging in his petition that he is impleading “all persons who shall be affected” by the proceedings did not satisfy the requirement under Section 3 of Rule 108. Both parents of Eduardo are already dead and may no longer be impleaded in his petition.

However, the Court ruled that the dismissal of Eduardo’s petition for correction of entries and cancellation of annotation in his COLB is without prejudice to the filing of another petition under Rule 108 to modify his surname from “Cu” to “Santos,” the last name of his mother. This is consistent with the Court’s 2020 ruling in Alanis III v. Court of Appeals where the petitioner was permitted to use his mother’s surname when he filed a petition for change of name. The Court held that “a legitimate child is entitled to use the surname of either parent as a last name.”

In 2011, Eduardo filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila a petition for correction of entries and cancellation of annotation in his COLB under Rule 108 of the Rules praying that his records in the civil registry be corrected. He claimed he was born in Manila on June 10, 1953 to his Chinese father, Nga Cu Lay, and Filipino mother, Juana Santos, who were not legally married.

In 2013, the RTC ruled in his favor and ordered the Local Civil Register of Manila and the National Census and Statistics Office to effect the changes in his COLB. The RTC held that Eduardo satisfied the requirement of publication under Section 4 of Rule 108 of the Rules and found unmeritorious the claim of the public prosecutor that Eduardo’s evidence was hearsay and self-serving and that the recourse he availed if misplaced because of his own admission that he was Chinese by birth.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) partially reversed and set aside the RTC Decision. The CA declared Eduardo to be a Filipino citizen, but his surname shall remain “Cu” and he remains to be a legitimate child. It ordered the Civil Registrar of Manila to correct the entries accordingly. The CA agreed with the RTC that Eduardo’s citizenship is Filipino, pursuant to the 1935 Constitution. The said constitution, which was in force at the time of his birth, provided that a child born of a Filipino mother who elects Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of majority is a Filipino citizen.

On further appeal, the SC set aside the CA ruling.

(G.R. No. 221277, Santos v. Republic, March 18, 2021)