A recent newspaper article got my attention. “SC relaxes rules on psychological incapacity as ground to annul marriages,” says the news title in a popular newspaper. I traced the case, Valerio E. Kalaw vs. Ma. Elena Fernandez (G.R. No. 166357, 14 January 2015), and proceeded to check if the Supreme Court really “relaxed” the rules in that case.
Practitioners refer to the guidelines for the interpretation and application of Article 36 as the Molina Doctrine, considering that the set of guidelines were first compiled in the 1997 case of Republic vs. Court of Appeals and Roridel Olaviano Molina (G.R. No. 108763). In Kalaw, the Supreme Court categorically reiterated its previous ruling that “we are not suggesting the abandonment of Molina in this case.” The set of guidelines in Molina, therefore, stays.
The pronouncement in Kalaw that is closest to “relaxation” of the guidelines is its reiteration that the “foregoing guidelines have turned out to be rigid, such that their application to every instance practically condemned the petitions for declaration of nullity to the fate of certain rejection.” There is no doubt that the Molina Doctrine is strict, but there is also no doubt that countless petitions have been granted pursuant to its guidelines.
The Court did not “relax” the rules when it reconsidered the Kalaw ruling. On the contrary, the ruling falls under the ambit of the Molina guidelines. The first time the Supreme Court decided Kalaw in 2011, with Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo as the ponente, the Court dismissed the petition for insufficiency of evidence. There was no sufficient evidence to prove the alleged acts of the respondent wife — “constant mahjong sessions, visits to the beauty parlor, going out with friends, adultery, and neglect of their children.” While it was shown that the respondent-wife played mahjong (bringing the kids with her), the petitioner-husband failed to show the FREQUENCY of the mahjong sessions. There is no proof that the “mahjong sessions were so frequent that respondent neglected her family.” In other words, the “allegations, which served as the bases or underlying premises of the conclusions of his experts, were not actually proven.”
In 2015, with Justice Lucas Bersamin as ponente, the Supreme Court reconsidered its earlier decision. The Supreme Court, “lest it be misunderstood,” explicitly stated that it’s not abandoning Molina. The Court, bound by the same set of proven facts, clarified that the failure to show the frequency of mahjong sessions does not preclude a finding of psychological incapacity. It’s not the FREQUENCY of the mahjong sessions; it’s the fact that the respondent-wife should “have known that bringing her children along her children of very tender ages to her mahjong sessions would expose them to a culture of gambling and other vices that would erode their moral fiber.” This, based on the totality of facts in the case, supports the finding of psychological incapacity. This ruling is very much consistent with the Molina Doctrine. There is no “relaxation” of the rules in this respect.
The label that the Court “relaxed” the rules is most likely derived from the Court’s statement that the rules set forth in Molina are rigid. This is bolstered by the apparent expression of regret, also reiterated in Kalaw, that “in hindsight, it may have been inappropriate for the Court to impose a rigid set of rules, as the one in Molina, in resolving all cases of psychological incapacity.” In my opinion, and as discussed below, the term “rigid” should not be understood along the lines of “relaxed” as an antonym.
The Supreme Court took pains to stress in Kalaw, again pointing to an earlier case, that it is “not suggesting the abandonment of Molina in this case.” It is not accurate to say that the Supreme Court “relaxed” the psychological incapacity guidelines in Kalaw. Matters that can be interpreted in Kalaw as a “relaxation” of the rules have been taken up in previous cases. Kalaw simply reiterates those principles.
What the Supreme Court again pointed out in Kalaw is the need to emphasize “other perspectives” that should guide courts in dealing with petitions for declaration of nullity under Article 36 of the Family Code.
What are the “other perspectives”? The Supreme Court noted that Article 36 cases should not be decided based on “a priori assumptions, predilections or generalizations” and emphasized that “courts should interpret the provision on a case-to-case basis; guided by experience, the findings of experts and researchers in psychological disciplines, and by decisions of church tribunals.”
This, in my opinion, means that “other perspectives” can run parallel to the Molina guidelines. In other words, the Molina Doctrine is not the be-all and end-all of Article 36 interpretation. The intention not to define Article 36 simply means that the provision should not be static; it is intended to be a “living” provision, with courts “guided by experience, the findings of experts and researchers in psychological disciplines, and by decisions of church tribunals.”
Cases that don’t fall squarely under the Molina guidelines should not be dismissed outright. A “rigid” interpretation of Molina means that petitions must be strictly construed in favor of the validity of marriage and any deviation from the guidelines, no matter how reasonable, must lead to the dismissal of the petition. But it should be remembered that a void marriage enjoys no protection and not entitled to any presumption of regularity, which means that even if a particular case does not fall squarely under the Molina principles, the court must still examine the “totality of evidence” and must apply “other perspectives.” This way, “diagnosed sociopaths, schizophrenics, nymphomaniacs, narcissists and the like” will not be allowed to “continuously debase and pervert the sanctity of marriage.”
[Feel free to express your opinion on the case through the comment section below. A healthy and constructive discussion is most welcome. For a more extensive discussion on the topic, refer to the Philippine e-Legal Forum.]