Court: You have the right to avoid loveless marriage

A party to an agreement to marry who backs out cannot be held liable for the crime of Slander by Deed for then that would be an indirect way of compelling said party to go into a marriage without his or her free consent, and this would contravene the principle in law that what cannot be done directly should not be done indirectly; and said party therefore has the right to avoid for himself or herself the evil of going through a loveless marriage, pursuant to Art. 11, par. 4 of the Revised Penal Code. (People v. Hernandez, et al., 55 O.G., p. 8456, Court of Appeals)

The above-cited case, decided by the Court of Appeals (CA), involves a case where one party backed out from a scheduled marriage and a criminal action for Slander by Deed was filed against him. Under the Revised Penal Code, the penalty of imprisonment shall be imposed upon any person who shall perform any act not included and punished by other crimes against honor, which shall cast dishonor, discredit or contempt upon another person. If said act is not of a serious nature, the penalty shall be lower. (Article 359 of Act 3815)

The CA ruled that the accused could not be imprisoned for Slander by Deed because, according to the court, every person has the right to avoid the evil of going through a loveless marriage. The justification given was Article 11's fourth paragraph which says: "Any person who, in order to avoid an evil or injury, does not act which causes damage to another, provided that the following requisites are present; First. That the evil sought to be avoided actually exists; Second. That the injury feared be greater than that done to avoid it; Third. That there be no other practical and less harmful means of preventing it."

In short, the CA considered a "loveless marriage" an evil that actually exists and must be avoided. Hence, any person who, in order to avoid the injury of being in a loveless marriage, may lawfully avoid it by walking or backing out. He thereby incurs no criminal liability as his act was "justified" under the law.

Another reason could have been added. Marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law. Being a contract, marriage requires consent. This consent cannot be attended by duress or intimidation.

If people cannot back out from a scheduled marriage due to fear of imprisonment, marriage as an institution would collapse. Consent to marry would no longer be given freely.However, it must be pointed out that the discussion above is limited to criminal liability only. As to civil liability, it has been held that, after all the preparations and the publicity of an upcoming marriage, a person cannot simply walk out of it without being held liable for actual, moral and other damages. Such an act, according to the Supreme Court, is unjustifiably contrary to good customs for which defendant must be held answerable in damages.

"Surely this is not a case of mere breach of promise to marry. [M]ere breach of promise to marry is not an actionable wrong. But, to formally set a wedding and go through all the above-described preparation and publicity, only to walk out of it when the matrimony is about to be solemnized, is quite different. This is palpably and unjustifiably contrary to good customs for which defendant must be held answerable in damages in accordance with Article 21 [of the New Civil Code]." Article 21 of said Code provides that "any person who wilfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage." (G.R. No. L-20089. December 26, 1964)

"The action for breach of promise to marry has no standing in the civil law, apart from the right to recover money or property advanced by the plaintiff upon the faith of such promise." (G.R. No. L-39110. November 28, 1933)

In another case, it was held that, if the CAUSE be the promise to marry, and the EFFECT be the carnal knowledge, there is a chance that there was criminal or moral seduction. Hence recovery of moral damages will prosper. If it be the other way around, there can be no recovery of moral damages, because here mutual lust has intervened. ACTUAL damages, should there be any, may be awarded, such as the expenses for the wedding presentations. (G.R. No. 97336. February 19, 1993)