Premature Marriages as a Crime

As Philippine laws currently stand, the death of either spouse dissolves the marital bond (same effect with annulment or declaration of nullity). This simply means that, subject to compliance with certain requirements, the husband or the wife is free to marry again. There is no legal obstacle for remarriage (and we’ve heard of a plot or two involving a spouse who wants to kill the other spouse so he/she can marry another person). Men may remarry right away. Women, on the other hand, must wait for 301 days or, if pregnant at the time of the husband’s death, must wait until childbirth. [Update: Premature Marriage No Longer a Crime]

“Senate OKs repeal of antiwomen law,” reads the caption of today’s Inquirer. The subject legal provision is Article 351 of the Revised Penal Code on “premature marriages.” The full text of Article 351 reads:

Art. 351. Premature marriages. Any widow who shall marry within three hundred and one days from the date of the death of her husband, or before having delivered if she shall have been pregnant at the time of his death, shall be punished by arresto mayor1 and a fine not exceeding 500 pesos.

The same penalties shall be imposed upon any woman whose marriage shall have been annulled or dissolved, if she shall marry before her delivery or before the expiration of the period of three hundred and one day after the legal separation.”

In Senate Bill No. 2187, Senator Cynthia A. Villar explains that Article 351 has the effect of “an enforced mourning period on the part of the woman although none is imposed on the man.” We can read any relevant effect into this provision. What’s certain is the rationale of 351, also noted in Senator Villar’s proposal, which is to avoid confusion in paternity and filiation. Senator Villar explains:

. . . a review of the existing laws of the Philippines, particularly that of the RA 3815, otherwise known as the Revised Penal Code, would reveal the need to amend, if not repeal, several of its outdated provisions.

One in particular is Article 351, which penalizes any woman from contracting marriage within 300 days from the termination of her marriage. This provision is discriminatory for it curtails the right of a woman to marry under the stated circumstances when no such penalty is imposed on the man who does the same. Similarly, the effect of the provision is an enforced mourning period on the part of the woman although none is imposed on the man.

Granted, the purpose of the provision is the protection of lineage or avoiding confusion relative to paternity and filiation. However, this purpose is already met by the Family Code of the Philippines as it provides a sufficient framework to prevent doubtful paternity and protect the rights of common children may be achieved without restricting women’s right to remarry.’

No one has been found guilty of “premature marriage,” notes Senator Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay, who explained in Senate Bill No. 1647:

The 1987 Philippine Constitutions affinns the policy of the state to ensure the fundamental equality ofmen and Women before the law. Article II, Section 14 states, thus:

The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of men and women.

Since the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, congress has endeavored to introduce changes to our laws in order to eliminate bias against women. Despite efforts however, there still exists provisions embedded in our laws which discriminate against women. One such provision is Article 351 of Act 3815, or the Revised Penal Code, which punishes women who contract premature marriages as provided under the law. The provision reads:

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Although there have been no known conviction for violation of Article 351 of the Revised Penal Code, it is high time that congress takes the necessary step to abolish provisions of our laws which are antiquated and serve no other purpose other than to perpetuate discrimination against women.

There have been, in the past, series of proposals to amend this anti-women provision in the Revised Penal Code. None however have been enacted into law. It is therefore strongly urged that the passing ofthis bill be granted utmost importance.

The approved bill must be signed by the President to become a law.

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