Part 2: Cotabato court issues spurious annulment documents

MANILA, Philippines – The number of annulment cases coming out of a Cotabato Regional Trial Court (RTC) raised eyebrows at the civil registry in Quezon City as well as the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).

The annulled cases were found to have been from the sala of Judge Cader Indar.

“We've been receiving 2 to 5 decrees on annulment and nullity of marriage decrees a month,” said Ramon Matabang, chief of the civil registry in Quezon City, referring to the volume of court decisions issued by Indar.

Matabang wondered, “How can a particular sala handle those many cases?”

The process is such that once an annulment decision is released by the court, the party who filed the case must present the documents to the local civil registry where the deciding court is located. The local civil registry then conducts a verification process to authenticate the signatures on the court documents based on specimen signatures it has on file.

A copy of the decision is then sent to the civil registry where the marriage took place. If the marriage ceremony was concluded in Quezon City, but the court proceedings were done in Cotabato, the civil registry offices in both cities would each get a copy of the decision.

It is only when the court decision is verified that the civil registry annotates the original marriage certificate to reflect the annulment and updates the party’s civil status.

Indar presided over a single-sala court. Unlike a designated Family Court tasked to handle domestic relations like annulments, adoption and inheritance, a single-sala court handles criminal and civil cases.

Discrepancies

Matabang also noticed a number of discrepancies in the court decisions: the stated address where the marriage was consummated did not match court documents; there was no address for the petitioner indicating lack of jurisdiction of the court to handle the case; and the details of the court documents had an alarming similarity.

“It was like they just filled in the blanks, they [the documents] were all the same. Only the names were changed,” Matabang said.

He consulted the civil registry in Manila and found that they, too, were receiving a large number of annulment cases from Indar’s court.

Matabang brought the matter to the Supreme Court which ordered an investigation of Indar, who was the presiding judge of RTC Branch 14 in Cotabato City and acting presiding judge of RTC Branch 15 in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

Non-existent cases

The SC’s Office of the Court Administrator (OCA), which supervises lower courts, conducted a judicial audit of RTC Branch 15 and found that the list of cases submitted by the civil registrars of Manila and Quezon City did not appear in the records of cases, whether pending or decided.

The audit team noted that the case numbers in the list submitted by the civil registrars were not recorded in the docket books of either RTC Shariff Aguak or RTC Cotabato. Further verification of the RTC records showed that no actual court proceedings had taken place.

The audit team also checked an inquiry made by the Australian embassy in Manila verifying an annulment decision Indar made in May 2007.

In cases where a previously married Filipino applies for a fiancée visa, a copy of the annulment decision is among the requirements submitted to confirm that the applicant is free to marry. Embassies usually verify the submitted annulment documents by making a written inquiry to the court that issued the decision. 

Indar issued a response to the Australian embassy 3 years later, in March 2010, explaining that his court is a court of general jurisdiction and could thus decide on family relations cases. He verified his decision as valid and declared the client free to marry. 

However, this was among the cases that did not exist in the record of the RTC’s cases.

In May 2010, the Supreme Court placed Indar on preventive suspension and issued a first notice of hearing for Indar to present his explanation. Several notices were sent to his court and residence but these went unreceived by him.

Finally, Umaima Silongan, the RTC clerk of court, was ordered to serve notice to Indar. Silongan notified the court that Indar had left Cotabato in April 2010 and his whereabouts were unknown.

Too many, too fast

Eric dela Rosa, legal supervisor of the Manila civil registry, showed us a sample list of the court decrees issued by Indar.

In October 2009, Indar issued 9 annulment decisions or about two per week. (In the interest of privacy and confidentiality, names of litigants and civil case numbers are excluded from the table that lists cases handled by Indar.)

The frequency was likened to making a regular trip to the grocery.

Indar dismissed

In September 2011, Judge George Jabido*, appointed as acting presiding judge of Shariff Aguak, verified the annulment decisions. Jabido* reported that:

In its decision, the court agreed with the findings of the judicial audit that “Indar made it appear that annulment cases underwent trial when records show that no judicial proceedings occurred” and found Indar guilty of gross misconduct and dishonesty.

Apart from the anomalies in the court proceedings, the audit team cited Indar’s letter to the Australian embassy declaring his annulment decision as valid and clearing the client to marry, as “highlighting Judge Indar’s appalling dishonesty.”

The audit team also pointed out the following:

Indar was dismissed from service. All benefits (with the exception of accrued leave benefits) due him were forfeited. He was barred from re-employment in any branch of government, including government-owned or controlled corporations. Additionally, Indar was disbarred and his name stricken from the roll of attorneys. (READ the decision here.)

The Court ordered that copies of the decision be forwarded to the local civil registrars of the City of Manila and Quezon City “to form part of the records of Decisions of Judge Indar on the annulment of marriages filed with their offices.”

But it gave no clear directive on the resolution of the annulment cases that were decided by Indar but found to have irregularities.

The Manila and Quezon City civil registrars have suspended annotation of annulment decrees issued by Indar.

“If people follow up on their annotated marriage certificate, we advise them that they have to go to the court where their decision was issued. The presiding judge at that court will then review the case,” said Manila’s Dela Rosa. – Rappler.com 

(LISTEN: A story of love and loss. A man speaks out about his painful experience in love.)

This story is part of the series, “The annulment business”, on annulment mills and annulment scams. Reporting for this project was supported with a grant from the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation.

*Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, Judge Jabido's name was misspelled as Jubido. This has been corrected.