'Maggie, blaze the trail for illegitimate children such as you'

MANILA, Philippines – A child deemed "illegitimate" by the law faced the Supreme Court in tears on Tuesday, September 17, to hear oral arguments on her petition that's rooted in a provision in the Civil Code that distinguishes "legitimate" from "illegitimate" children.

For this petition, Amadea Angela "Maggie" Ho Aquino is claiming her right to inherit from her grandfather Miguel. The problem is that in the eyes of the law, she is an "illegitimate" child of Miguel's son Arturo who died before Maggie was born.

Maggie's uncles have secured a Court of Appeals (CA) decision denying her the right to inherit.

Article 992 of the Civil Code says that "an illegitimate child has no right to inherit ab intestato from the legitimate children and relatives of his father or mother."

Maggie attended the 2nd and final oral arguments on her petition, where she cried as her lawyers presented her arguments before the justices.

Amici curiae, or the experts called in by the Supreme Court, have recommended that the Court declare Article 992 unconstitutional, arguing that there is no legal distinction between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" children.

Associate Justice Jose Reyes Jr recommended a compromise by urging the Aquino siblings to simply just give Maggie the 2,000-square meter piece of land in Davao City, which Miguel said on his death bed was Maggie's inheritance.

Reyes asks for quick and happy ending

"We've been talking about constitutionality of 992, even our amicus curiae, they're all burdened by all of this," Reyes said. "The bottom line is, the only problem is properties..why don't you just put an end to this case? We will try to convince her to accept it and that will put an end to this case," said Reyes, a chief justice aspirant.

"It will be a happy ending," he added.

Maggie told Reyes that she "submits herself to the Court."

Justice Reyes then turned to the lawyers for the Aquino siblings opposed to giving Maggie inheritance and said: "Listening to all the lawyers and my colleagues here parang nakakapagod na eh di ba. Si Solicitor General pagod na rin, gusto nang umuwi. Umuwi na tayo, mag-agree ka n. Counsels, pls advise your clients."

(Listening to all the lawyers and my colleagues here, it can be tiring. The Solicitor General is tired, he wants to go home. Let us all go home, just agree. Counsels, please advise your clients.)

Solicitor General Jose Calida delivered the government's stance, which is to preserve the constitutionality of Article 992, saying the Supreme Court should practice judicial restraint and not interfere with the prerogative of Congress which penned the law.

Justice Hernando pleads: 'See this case through'

Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando, who supports the striking of Article 992 for being "backward," urged Maggie to complete the case.

"Maggie, decades ago, another Maggie blazed the trail for rape victims. I'm referring to Maggie dela Riva," Hernando said. Dela Riva, a Spanish-Filipino actress, was raped in 1967 by 4 men, who were sentenced to death by the court – 3 of whom were executed through the electric chair in 1972. 

Justice Hernando told Maggie: "You might be just that Maggie who will blaze the trail for illegitimate children such as you. Now, will a compromise agreement really give you closure?"

Her voice quivering, Maggie started to say that she will submit to the wisdom of the Court, but Hernando cut her off and pressed if an agreement with her relatives would give her closure.

"No," Maggie said.

"Which is why I would say, based from what I've seen of you earlier when you almost cried uncontrollably, you will see this case to its completion, for your filiation to be finally established. It may not be in the eyes of God or of your perceived family but in your heart you are a child of your father and mother," Hernando said.

Family dispute

Maggie's lawyer said the 2,000 square meter lot in Davao had already been sold by one of the respondents for P65 million.

Reyes told the respondents' camp to obey the grandfather's wishes.

"Respect the wish of the old man. If you disobey the words of an old man, I don't know what's going to happen. Maawa naman kayo. Pag-isipan niyong mabuti, let us know, sana ngayon matapos na (Please show mercy. Think about it, I hope to finish this today). It's just a single property worth 60 million, what's 60 million nowadays?" Reyes said.

Calida pointed out that Maggie's birth certificate had since been amended to declare that her father is Enrique Ho, her stepfather. Maggie said this had to be done out of convenience.

Status of legitimacy

Maggie had said in her petition that she had enjoyed deep ties to the Aquino family when her grandfather was alive, with Miguel even providing for her growing up, saying that this proves "open and continuous possession of status of a legitimate child."

Article 172 of the Family Code says that filiation can be established by "the open and continuous possession of status of a legitimate child."

Geraldine Quimosing-Tiu, lawyer for one of the Aquino siblings, told the Supreme Court to keep Article 992 intact.

"To allow illegitimate children inheritance from legitimate relatives would be to distort the hereditary shares that the law has carefully allocated to different class of heirs. It would breed resentment," Tiu said.

Parties have until October 7 to submit their final position papers, afterwhich the case is deemed submitted for decision. – 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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