Just recently, the Supreme Court promulgated a decision (Antonio vs. Reyes, G.R. No. 155800, 10 March 2006) in connection with a petition for declaration of nullity under Article 36 (psychological incapacity) of the Family Code. The Supreme Court sustained the nullity of the marriage based on the psychological incapacity of the wife (respondent). As concluded by the psychiatrist presented by petitioner, such repeated lying is abnormal and pathological and amounts to psychological incapacity.
The discussion below is, in the parlance of law students, a “digest” (a shortened/edited version of the case). It might be a little boring (at least you’ve been forewarned).
In that petition, the petitioner-husband claimed that respondent persistently lied about herself, the people around her, her occupation, income, educational attainment and other events or things, including: (1) she introduced her illegitimate child to her petitioner-husband as an adopted child of her family; (2) she misrepresented herself as a psychiatrist, with a degree in psychology; (3) she falsely claimed to be a singer or a free-lance voice talent; (4) she invented friends and, under the names of those imaginary friends, sent lengthy letters to petitioner-husband touting her as the “number one moneymaker” in the commercial industry worth 2 million; and (5) she represented herself as a person of greater means, altering her payslip to make it appear that she earned a higher income.
The Supreme Court decided the petition using the guidelines (click here) set forth in Molina, thus:
First. Petitioner had sufficiently overcome his burden in proving the psychological incapacity of his spouse. The petitioner must be able to establish the cause of action with preponderance of evidence (however, any finding of collusion among the parties would necessarily negate such proofs). The petitioner-husband, apart from his own testimony, presented witnesses who corroborated his allegations on his wife’s behavior. He also presented two (2) expert witnesses from the field of psychology who testified that the aberrant behavior of respondent was tantamount to psychological incapacity.
Second. The root cause of respondent’s psychological incapacity has been medically or clinically identified, alleged in the complaint, sufficiently proven by experts, and clearly explained in the trial court’s decision. It was shown that respondent has that propensity for telling lies about almost anything, be it her occupation, her state of health, her singing abilities, her income, etc. She has this fantastic ability to invent and fabricate stories and personalities. She practically lived in a world of make believe making her therefore not in a position to give meaning and significance to her marriage to petitioner. In persistently and constantly lying to petitioner, respondent undermined the basic tenets of relationship between spouses that is based on love, trust and respect. As concluded by the psychiatrist presented by petitioner, such repeated lying is abnormal and pathological and amounts to psychological incapacity.
Third. Respondent’s psychological incapacity was established to have clearly existed at the time of and even before the celebration of marriage. She fabricated friends and made up letters from fictitious characters well before she married petitioner. Likewise, she kept petitioner in the dark about her natural child’s real parentage as she only confessed when the latter had found out the truth after their marriage.
Fourth. The gravity of respondent’s psychological incapacity is sufficient to prove her disability to assume the essential obligations of marriage. It is immediately discernible that the parties had shared only a little over a year of cohabitation before the exasperated petitioner left his wife. Whatever such circumstance speaks of the degree of tolerance of petitioner, it likewise supports the belief that respondent’s psychological incapacity, as borne by the record, was so grave in extent that any prolonged marital life was dubitable. It should be noted that the lies attributed to respondent were not adopted as false pretenses in order to induce petitioner into marriage. More disturbingly, they indicate a failure on the part of respondent to distinguish truth from fiction, or at least abide by the truth. A person unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality would similarly be unable to comprehend the legal nature of the marital bond, much less its psychic meaning, and the corresponding obligations attached to marriage, including parenting.
Fifth. Respondent is evidently unable to comply with the essential marital obligations as embraced by Articles 68 to 71 of the Family Code. Article 68, in particular, enjoins the spouses to live together, observe mutual love, respect and fidelity, and render mutual help and support. As noted by the trial court, it is difficult to see how an inveterate pathological liar would be able to commit to the basic tenets of relationship between spouses based on love, trust and respect.
Sixth. The Court of Appeals clearly erred when it failed to take into consideration the fact that the marriage of the parties was annulled by the Catholic Church. Such deliberate ignorance is in contravention of Molina, which held that interpretations given by the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, while not controlling or decisive, should be given great respect by our courts.
Seventh. The final point of contention is the requirement in Molina that such psychological incapacity be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable. In this case, while respondent’s psychosis is quite grave, the expert witnesses did not explicitly state that the psychological incapacity was incurable. However, there was a good reason for such silence.
The petitioner’s expert witnesses testified in 1994 and 1995, and the trial court rendered its decision on 10 August 1995. These events transpired well before Molina was promulgated in 1997 and made explicit the requirement that the psychological incapacity must be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable. Such requirement was not expressly stated in Article 36 or any other provision of the Family Code. On the other hand, in Santos (decided in January 1995), the Supreme Court omitted any reference to incurability as a characteristic of psychological incapacity. Certainly, Santos did not clearly mandate that the incurability of the psychological incapacity be established in an action for declaration of nullity. At least, there was no jurisprudential clarity at the time of the trial of this case and the subsequent promulgation of the trial court’s decision that required a medical finding of incurability. Such requisite arose only with Molina in 1997, at a time when this case was on appellate review, or after the reception of evidence.
We are aware that in Pesca vs. Pesca, the Court countered an argument that Molina and Santos should not apply retroactively with the observation that the interpretation or construction placed by the courts of a law constitutes a part of that law as of the date the statute in enacted. Yet we approach this present case from utterly practical considerations. The requirement that psychological incapacity must be shown to be medically or clinically permanent or incurable is one that necessarily cannot be divined without expert opinion. Clearly in this case, there was no categorical averment from the expert witnesses that respondent’s psychological incapacity was curable or incurable simply because there was no legal necessity yet to elicit such a declaration and the appropriate question was not accordingly propounded to him. If we apply Pesca without deep reflection, there would be undue prejudice to those cases tried before Molina or Santos, especially those presently on appellate review, where presumably the respective petitioners and their expert witnesses would not have seen the need to adduce a diagnosis of incurability. It may hold in those cases, as in this case, that the psychological incapacity of a spouse is actually incurable, even if not pronounced as such at the trial court level.
Other note-worthy matters:
- The concept of psychological incapacity as a ground for nullity of marriage is novel in our body of laws, although mental incapacity has long been recognized as a ground for the dissolution of a marriage.
- The requirement in Molina that the Solicitor General must issue a certification stating his reasons for his agreement or opposition to the petition was dispensed with in A.M. No. 02-11-10-SC (Rule on Declaration of Absolute Nullity of Void Marriages and Annulment of Voidable Marriages). Still, Article 48 of the Family Code mandates that the appearance of the prosecuting attorney or fiscal assigned be on behalf of the State to take steps to prevent collusion between the parties and to take care that evidence is not fabricated or suppressed.
- As held in Marcos vs. Marcos, an expert witness need not personally examine the other spouse in order for the latter to be declared psychologically incapacitated.
- Article 36, in classifying marriages contracted by a psychologically incapacitated person as a nullity, should be deemed as an implement of this constitutional protection of marriage. Void ab initio marriages under Article 36 do not further the initiatives of the State concerning marriage and family, as they promote wedlock among persons who, for reasons independent of their will, are not capacitated to understand or comply with the essential obligations of marriage.
- The notion that psychological incapacity pertains to the inability to understand the obligations of marriage, as opposed to a mere inability to comply with them, was affirmed in Molina.
- The definition of psychological incapacity is not cast in intractable specifics. Judicial understanding of psychological incapacity may be informed by evolving standards, taking into account the particulars of each case, current trends in psychological and even canonical thought, and experience. The Molina guidelines are not set in stone, the clear legislative intent mandating a case-to-case perception of each situation, and Molina itself arising from this evolutionary understanding of Article 36.
- The citation of interpretations by canon law experts is unavoidable, considering that the concept of psychological incapacity was derived from canon law. It would be disingenuous to disregard the influence of Catholic Church doctrine in the formulation and subsequent understanding of Article 36, and the Court has expressly acknowledged that interpretations given by the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal of the local Church, while not controlling or decisive, should be given great respect by our courts.
- In denying similar petitions, courts favorably cite Sections 1 and 2, Article XV of the Constitution. While it may appear that the judicial denial of a petition for declaration of nullity is reflective of the constitutional mandate to protect marriage, such action in fact merely enforces a statutory definition of marriage, not a constitutionally ordained decree of what marriage is. The Constitution itself does not establish the parameters of state protection to marriage as a social institution and the foundation of the family. It remains the province of the legislature to define all legal aspects of marriage and prescribe the strategy and the modalities to protect it.
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