Civil Law, Criminal Law

Vitangcol v. People of the Philippines G.R. No. 207406 January 13, 2016 Elements of the Crime of Bigamy, the Civil Code of the Philippines [J. Leonen]

FACTS:

According to the prosecution, Norberto married Alice on December 4, 1994.

After some time, Alice discovered that Norberto was previously married to a certain Gina M. Gaerlan on July 17, 1987, as evidenced by a marriage contract registered with the National Statistics Office. 

Alice filed a criminal Complaint for bigamy against Norberto.

On the other hand, Norberto alleged that before finalizing their marriage plans, he revealed to Alice that he had a “fake marriage” with his college girlfriend, a certain Gina Gaerlan. 

Nevertheless, Norberto and Alice proceeded with the wedding, and had three children.

Sometime in 2007, Norberto heard rumors that Alice was having an affair with a married man. 

Norberto’s lawyer warned Alice of the possible criminal liability she may incur if she continued seeing her paramour.

Allegedly in retaliation to the threat of criminal action against her, Alice filed the criminal Complaint for bigamy against Norberto.

Finding that Norberto contracted a second marriage with Alice despite his subsisting valid marriage with Gina, the RTC convicted Norberto of bigamy. 

On appeal, the CA sustained the guilty verdict against Norberto but modified the penalty imposed in accordance with the Indeterminate Sentence Law. 

Subsequently, his Motion for Reconsideration was denied.

Hence, this Petition for Review on Certiorari.

Norberto argues that the first element of bigamy is absent in this case. He presented in evidence a Certification from the Office of the Civil Registrar of Imus, Cavite, which states that the Office has no record of the marriage license allegedly issued in his favor and his first wife, Gina. He argued that the prosecution failed to establish the legality of his first marriage.

In addition, Norberto claims that the legal dissolution of the first marriage is not an element of the crime of bigamy. 

According to Norberto, nothing in Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes bigamy mentions that requirement. 

ISSUE:

Whether the Certification from the Office of the Civil Registrar that it has no record of the marriage license issued to petitioner Norberto A. Vitangcol and his first wife Gina proves the nullity of petitioner’s first marriage and exculpates him from the bigamy charge.

RULING:

Persons intending to contract a second marriage must first secure a judicial declaration of nullity of their first marriage. If they proceed with the second marriage without the judicial declaration, they are guilty of bigamy regardless of evidence of the nullity of the first marriage.

Bigamy is punished under Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code:

ARTICLE 349. Bigamy. – The penalty of prision mayor shall be imposed upon 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.

For an accused to be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove all of the following elements:

[first,] that the offender has been legally married;

[second,] that the first marriage has not been legally dissolved or, in case his or her spouse is absent, the absent spouse could not yet be presumed dead according to the Civil Code;

[third,] that he contracts a second or subsequent marriage; and

[lastly,] that the second or subsequent marriage has all the essential requisites for validity.

Contrary to petitioner’s claim, all the elements of bigamy are present in this case. Petitioner was still legally married to Gina when he married Alice. Thus, the trial court correctly convicted him of the crime charged.

Based on the marriage contract presented in evidence, petitioner’s first marriage was solemnized on July 17, 1987, before the Family Code of the Philippines became effective. Hence, the provisions of the Civil Code of the Philippines govern the validity of his first marriage.

Article 53 of the Civil Code enumerates the requisites of marriage, the absence of any of which renders the marriage void from the beginning:

Article 53. No marriage shall be solemnized unless all these requisites are complied with:

(1) Legal capacity of the contracting parties;

(2) Their consent, freely given;

(3) Authority of the person performing the marriage; and

(4) A marriage license, except in a marriage of exceptional character.

The fourth requisite—the marriage license—is issued by the local civil registrar of the municipality where either contracting party habitually resides. 

To prove that a marriage was solemnized without a marriage license, “the law requires that the absence of such marriage license must be apparent on the marriage contract, or at the very least, supported by a certification from the local civil registrar that no such marriage license was issued to the parties.”

Petitioner presents a Certification from the Office of the Civil Registrar of Imus, Cavite, which states:

After a diligent search on the files of Registry Book on Application for Marriage License and License Issuance available in this office, no record could be found on the alleged issuance of this office of Marriage License No. 8683519 in favor of MR. NORBERTO A. VITANGCOL and MS. GINA M. GAERLAN dated July 17, 1987.

This Certification does not prove that petitioner’s first marriage was solemnized without a marriage license. It does not categorically state that Marriage License No. 8683519 does not exist.

Moreover, petitioner admitted the authenticity of his signature appearing on the marriage contract between him and his first wife, Gina. 

The marriage contract between petitioner and Gina is a positive piece of evidence as to the existence of petitioner’s first marriage. This “should be given greater credence than documents testifying merely as to [the] absence of any record of the marriage.

Assuming without conceding that petitioner’s first marriage was solemnized without a marriage license, petitioner remains liable for bigamy. Petitioner’s first marriage was not judicially declared void. Nor was his first wife Gina judicially declared presumptively dead under the Civil Code. The second element of the crime of bigamy is, therefore, present in this case.

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