Abandoned wife also deserves to be happy - SC Justice

Maria Fe was left behind. She looked for Jerry, in good faith. Jerry could not be found. He did not leave word.
"A wife, abandoned with impunity, also deserves to be happy," Justice Marvic Leonen said after opening his dissenting opinion with a quote from Henry Ward Beecher. "Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp it needs to be fed out of the oil of another’s heart or its flames burn low."

This is the case of the REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES v. MARIA FE ESPINOSA CANTOR (G.R. No. 184621, December 10, 2013) through the lenses of Justice Leonen's opinion against the majority of the Supreme Court Justices.

Maria Fe alleges that sometime in January 1998, she and Jerry had a violent quarrel in their house. During the trial, she admitted that the quarrel had to do with her not being able to reach her "climax" whenever she would have sexual intercourse with Jerry. Maria Fe emphasized that she even suggested to him that he consult a doctor, but Jerry brushed aside this suggestion. She also said that during the quarrel, Jerry had expressed animosity toward her father, saying "I will not respect that old man outside."

Jerry left after their quarrel. Since then, Maria Fe had not seen or heard from him. On May 21, 2002 after more than four (4) years without word from Jerry, Maria Fe filed her petition for the declaration of presumptive death of an absent spouse with the Regional Trial Court.

Maria Fe exerted "earnest efforts to locate the whereabouts or actual address of [Jerry]." She inquired from her mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, neighbors, and friends, but no one could tell her where Jerry had gone. Whenever she went to a hospital, she would check the patients’ directory, hoping to find Jerry.

A petition for the declaration of presumptive death of an absent spouse for the purpose of contracting a subsequent marriage is a summary proceeding. Article 41 of the Family Code is clear on this point:
Art. 41. A marriage contracted by any person during subsistence of a previous marriage shall be null and void, unless before the celebration of the subsequent marriage, the prior spouse had been absent for four consecutive years and the spouse present has a well-founded belief that the absent spouse was already dead. In case of disappearance where there is danger of death under the circumstances set forth in the provisions of Article 391 of the Civil Code, an absence of only two years shall be sufficient.
For the purpose of contracting the subsequent marriage under the preceding paragraph the spouse present must institute a summary proceeding as provided in this Code for the declaration of presumptive death of the absentee, without prejudice to the effect of reappearance of the absent spouse.

Maria Fe testified in court that months after their wedding, she and her husband had a violent quarrel, and he had left after the fight. She noted the two (2) causes of the quarrel: first, she could not "climax" every time they would have sexual intercourse; second, Jerry disrespected her father every time he would visit them. She likewise stated that she went to see her mother-in-law, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, neighbors, and friends to ask about her husband’s whereabouts. She said that every time she would go to a hospital, she would check its directory to find out anything about her husband, but her efforts proved futile.

Maria Fe exerted the best efforts to ascertain the location of her husband but to no avail. She bore the indignity of being left behind. She suffered the indifference of her husband. Such indifference was not momentary. She anguished through years of never hearing from him. The absence of a few days between spouses may be tolerable, required by necessity. The absence of months may test one’s patience. But the absence of years of someone who made the solemn promise to stand by his partner in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, is intolerable. The waiting is as painful to the spirit as the endless search for a person that probably did not want to be found or could no longer be found.

To require more from Maria Fe who did what she could, given the resources available to her, is to assert the oppressiveness of our laws. It is to tell her that she has to suffer from causes which she cannot understand for more years to come. It should be in the public interest to assume that Jerry, or any husband for that matter, as a matter of moral and legal obligation, would get in touch with Maria Fe even if only to tell her that he is alive.

According to Justice Leonen, the Supreme Court should not have pre-conceived expectations of a standard operating procedure for spouses who are abandoned. Instead, it should, with the public interest in mind and human sensitivity at heart, understand the domestic situation.
"It is unfortunate that the majority fails to appreciate Maria Fe's predicament and instead places upon her the burden to prove good faith in her painstaking efforts."
To be present in any human relationship especially that of marriage is a complex affair. There are interests to be compromised for each other, temperaments to be adjusted, evolving personalities to be understood in the crucible of common experiences. The moments of bliss are paid for by the many moments of inevitable discomfort as couples adjust their many standpoints, attitudes, and values for each other. It is a journey that takes time and in that time, presence.

The case of Maria does not present that kind of complexity. It is simple enough. Maria Fe was left behind. She looked for Jerry, in good faith. Jerry could not be found. He did not leave word. He did not make the slightest effort to get in touch with Maria Fe. His absence did not make the difficult compromises possible. There were no adjustments in their temperaments, no opportunities to further understand each other, no journey together. His absence was palpable: not moments, not days, not months, but years. Maria Fe deserves more. The law, in Article 41, allows her succor.

Given the circumstances, Justice Leonen argued in his dissent that Maria Fe acted and her actions were sufficient to form the well-founded belief that her husband passed away. It was proper that he be declared presumptively dead. In the far possibility that he reappears and is not dead, the law provides remedies for him.

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