Civil Law, Remedial Law

SANTIAGO v. JORNACION G.R. No. 230049. October 06, 2021 Paternity and Filiation, DNA Evidence Rule, Family Code, Best Interest of the Child Principle


Bernie Santiago, claiming to be the biological father of Sofia, filed a petition with the RTC which sought to establish his paternity with Sofia and to have the City Civil Registrar of Marikina City correct some entries in Sofia’s Birth Certificate. 

He averred that Sofia was the fruit of his romantic relationship with Magdalena O. Gabutin. 

When Sofia was born on March 24, 2001, Magdalena was still married to – although separated in fact from – respondent Rommel C. Jornacion.

Since Magdalena was still legally married to Rommel and to save Magdalena from shame, Rommel was registered as Sofia’s father. Thus, Sofia’s last name was registered as Jornacion.

Bernie alleged that it was he and Magdalena who lived as husband and wife. Since Rommel and Magdalena’s separation in 1999, Rommel never returned to Magdalena and their two children, Kevin and Samantha. 

On the other hand, Bernie has been financially supporting Sofia’s daily needs and education from the time of Sofia’s birth and even after Bernie left the Philippines. Bernie only realized the importance of establishing his filiation with Sofia when Magdalena died on October 23, 2012.

In support of his petition, Bernie submitted, among others, Certification dated February 26, 2008 certifying that the Decree of Annulment between Rommel and Magdalena was registered with the Civil Registrar of Malabon City; Entry of Judgment declaring the marriage between Rommel and Magdalena void ab initio; Magdalena’s Certificate of Death; and DNA Results.

The DNA test results were issued by DNA Diagnostic Center (DDC), a laboratory located in Ohio, U.S.A. Samples were collected from both Bernie and Sofia through the help of DDC’s Philippine Corporate Partner, Infinitech Center located in 64 Scout Gandia, Quezon City.

Before Bernie filed his Amended Petition, the Republic of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), filed a Comment/Opposition, which sought to dismiss the petition based on the following grounds: 

(1) Sofia is presumed to be a legitimate child of Magdalena and Rommel, following Article 164 of the Family Code; 

(2) the fact that Magdalena and Bernie had a romantic relationship cannot overturn the presumption of legitimacy; 

(3) Sofia’s legitimacy can only be questioned by Rommel or his heirs in a direct attack within one year from the knowledge of Sofia’s birth or the recording of the Birth Certificate in the civil register, thus, Sofia’s legitimacy cannot be assailed through a special proceeding for correction of entry under Rule 108.

In his Reply to the OSG’s Comment/Opposition, Bernie explained that while the petition would inevitably result in the change of Sofia’s status from legitimate to illegitimate, humanitarian reasons should outweigh such result. 

Bernie claimed that since Magdalena’s death, Sofia has been living with Bernie’s family and is loved more than how an ordinary family member would love a legitimate relative. Disregarding Bernie’s filiation with Sofia would leave Sofia to the sole care of her half-siblings who are either just recently employed (i.e., Kevin) or still a minor (i.e., Samantha) because Rommel abandoned Sofia, Kevin, and Samantha. 

Thus, Bernie sought to have his Amended Petition granted in order to protect the welfare and best interest of the minor child, Sofia. 

He argued that the law is merely subservient to the paramount interest of the child and should not be used to defeat such purpose. He stressed his biological relationship with Sofia (as evidenced by the DNA test results conducted in Ohio, U.S.A.) and its precedence over the presumption of Sofia’s legitimacy. He expressed his willingness to undergo DNA testing in the Philippines to re-establish his filiation with Sofia.

The RTC dismissed the original petition. 

The trial court held that while Bernie sought to have some entries in Sofia’s Birth Certificate corrected, the petition is really one to impugn Sofia’s legitimacy. The prayer to have the entries in a child’s Birth Certificate changed are only a necessary consequence to impugning the child’s legitimate filiation. Therefore, Bernie had no personality to file the petition since he is neither Magdalena’s husband (Rommel) nor an heir of Rommel.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed that Bernie’s petition was dismissible because Bernie was not the proper party to impugn Sofia’s legitimate status. 

Moreover, Bernie’s prayer to establish filiation with Sofia would violate the presumption of legitimate filiation under Article 164 of the Family Code. The only way to remove Sofia’s status as a legitimate child of Rommel would be for Rommel or his heirs to file a direct action to impugn such legitimacy within the periods provided by Article 170 of the Family Code.

Hence, this petition.


Whether a child’s filiation with an illegitimate father may be established despite the existence of a valid marriage between the mother and another man.


The petition is meritorious.

The age-old adage that maternity is a matter of fact while paternity is a matter of faith might not always ring true today in view of scientific advances establishing filiation.

In Estate of Ong, We explained:

Filiation proceedings are usually filed not just to adjudicate paternity but also to secure a legal right associated with paternity, such as citizenship, support (as in the present case), or inheritance. The burden of proving paternity is on the person who alleges that the putative father is the biological father of the child. There are four significant procedural aspects of a traditional paternity action which parties have to face: a prima facie case, affirmative defenses, presumption of legitimacy, and physical resemblance between the putative father and child.

A child born to a husband and wife during a valid marriage is presumed legitimate. As a guaranty in favor of the child and to protect his status of legitimacy, Article 167 of the Family Code provides:

Article 167. The children shall be considered legitimate although the mother may have declared against its legitimacy or may have been sentenced as an adulteress.

The law requires that every reasonable presumption be made in favor of legitimacy. 

We explained the rationale of this rule in the recent case of Cabatania v. Court of Appeals:

The presumption of legitimacy does not only flow out of a declaration in the statute but is based on the broad principles of natural justice and the supposed virtue of the mother. The presumption is grounded on the policy to protect the innocent offspring from the odium of illegitimacy.

The presumption of legitimacy of the child, however, is not conclusive and consequently, may be overthrown by evidence to the contrary. Hence, Article 255 of the New Civil Code [now Article 166 of the Family Code] provides:

Article 166. Legitimacy of a child may be impugned only on the following grounds:

(1) That it was physically impossible for the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife within the first 120 days of the 300 days which immediately preceded the birth of the child because of:

(a) the physical incapacity of the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife;

(b) the fact that the husband and wife were living separately in such a way that sexual intercourse was not possible; or

(c) serious illness of the husband, which absolutely prevented sexual intercourse;

(2) That it is proved that for biological or other scientific reasons, the child could not have been that of the husband, except in the instance provided in the second paragraph of Article 164; or

(3) That in case of children conceived through artificial insemination, the written authorization or ratification of either parent was obtained through mistake, fraud, violence, intimidation, or undue influence. (255a)]

The relevant provisions of the Family Code provide as follows:

Article 172. The filiation of legitimate children is established by any of the following:

(1) The record of birth appearing in the civil register or a final judgment; or

(2) An admission of legitimate filiation in a public document or a private handwritten instrument and signed by the parent concerned.

In the absence of the foregoing evidence, the legitimate filiation shall be proved by:

(1) The open and continuous possession of the status of a legitimate child; or

(2) Any other means allowed by the Rules of Court and special laws.

Article 175. Illegitimate children may establish their illegitimate filiation in the same way and on the same evidence as legitimate children.

Alongside Articles 172 and 175 of the Family Code in establishing filiation of illegitimate children, We held that “with the advancement in the field of genetics, and the availability of new technology, it can now be determined with reasonable certainty whether Rogelio (Ong) is the biological father of the minor, through DNA testing.”38 Thus, We affirmed the remand of that case to the RTC to determine Joanne’s paternity through DNA analysis.

Similarly, We find a remand of the instant petition proper.

To be clear, while scientific proof is allowed to impugn legitimacy under Article 166(2) of the Family Code, the same type of proof should also be allowed to establish filiation under Article 175 in relation to Article 172, paragraph 2(2) – i.e., any other means by the Rules of Court. One of these means is through the use of DNA evidence under A.M. No. 06-11-5-SC.

The presumption that a child born in wedlock is legitimate is only a disputable presumption. This presumption may be overthrown using the grounds enumerated in Article 166 of the Family Code. One of these grounds, as previously mentioned, is biological or scientific proof. Since Bernie is willing to undergo DNA testing to overcome this disputable presumption of the child’s legitimate status, this Court finds it proper to afford him an opportunity to present this fact (if proven).

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