Experts to SC: Strike down law that discriminates vs illegitimate children


MANILA, Philippines – Legal experts called on the Supreme Court (SC) Tuesday, September 3, to declare unconstitutional Article 992 of the Civil Code, which deprives illegitimate children of inheritance rights from legitimate relatives of their parents.

Former Ateneo Law School dean Cynthia del Castillo and University of the Philippines (UP) persons and family relations professor Elizabeth Pangalangan were invited by the SC to the oral arguments on Tuesday as amici curiae or experts on the matter.

Del Castillo and Pangalangan both said there should not be a legal distinction between illegitimate and legitimate children.

The oral arguments were spurred by a petition from a so-called illegitimate child whose inheritance from her grandparent was denied by the Court of Appeals (CA) because of Article 992.

Article 992 says: "An illegitimate child has no right to inherit ab intestato from the legitimate children and relatives of his father or mother; nor shall such children or relatives inherit in the same manner from the illegitimate child."

Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando said Article 992 is very backward.

"The first laws on bastardy were promulgated in 1070, ten centuries ago, so I say this is really an obnoxious vestige of empire days that we need to strike it as unconstitutional in this very moment," Hernando said.

More illegitimate children than legitimate

Pangalangan cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) which shows that in 2017, there were more illegitimate children born than legitimate children.

Of the total live births that year, 907,061 or 53.3% were born out of wedlock, according to PSA.

"So we see in our society, I believe that we need to give protection to these children because they now outnumber our illegitimate children," Hernando said.

Pangalangan pointed out that if the State's intent in passing Article 992 is to discourage illicit affairs and uphold the sanctity of marriage, then that state interest has already been lost given the current data.

"The legal and societal disadvantages suffered by illegitimate children have not sufficiently deterred unmarried couples from creating them, therefore Article 992 of the Civil Code and other provisions such as Article 175 of the Family Code that deny illegitimate children rights merely because of their status does not achieve any state interest and is inconsistent with our treaty obligation," Pangalangan said.

Articles 172 and 175 of the Family Code lay down the requirements for a child to be recognized as legitimate.

'Unfair'

Del Castillo said that Article 992 was worded in such a way that it can even result in "absurd" situations.

Article 992 brings down an iron curtain between a legitimate and an illegitimate child such that an illegitimate child cannot inherit from the legitimate relatives of her parent in the same way as the legitimate relative of her parent cannot inherit from the illegitimate child.

In a complicated situation such as two siblings – one illegitimate and the other legitimate – and both have illegitimate children, Del Castillo said it would be possible that the illegitimate child of the illegitimate sibling would inherit from the grandparent. 

"So you have a situation here where you actually favor the illegitimates over the legitimate, is this a fair situation? So this is the heart and soul of Article 992. If you strike it down as unconstitutional on the basis of the fact that there is no substantial distinction, it really is going to be something that favors not only the illegitimate children, but the legitimate children as well," Del Castillo said.

Congress or SC?

Hernando asked Pangalangan whether the Supreme Court should take this matter into its own hands or just refer it to Congress to come up with the proper laws.

"That depends your honor and I leave it to the wisdom of the Court to decide which way, but what is clear to me, your honor, is that this law has to be changed," said Pangalangan.

Pangalangan added: "If the reason of Article 992 is to show disapproval of illicit liaisons between adults, then the children that they may produce should not have to bear the burden of that unlawful act."

The next oral arguments on this issue will be held on September 17. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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