Ignorance of a foreign law

Ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith. (Article 3 of the New Civil Code) In other words, no one can validly interpose the defense of ignorance when a law is violated. Everyone is presumed to know the law.

According to Paras (2008):
Article 3 applies to all kinds of domestic laws, whether civil or penal (Luna v. Linatoc, 74 Phil. 15; Delgado v. Alonzo, 44 Phil. 739), and whether substantive or remedial (Zulueta v. Zulueta, 1 Phil. 258) on grounds of expediency, policy, and necessity, i.e., to prevent evasion of the law. However, the maxim refers only to mandatory or prohibitive laws, not to permissive or suppletory laws. (See 1 Manresa 56)
The majority view is that ignorance of foreign law is not ignorance of the law; it is ignorance of the fact. The existence and contents of  foreign law are a factual question because foreign laws must be alleged and proved as matters of fact, there being no judicial notice of said foreign laws. (Adong v. Cheong Seng Gee, 43 Phil. 43; Sy Joc Lieng v. Syquia, 16 Phil. 137)

There is a minority view, however, saying that ignorance of a foreign law may be considered ignorance of law within the purview of Article 3 if the same has been alleged and proved. Since the existence and contents have been established, ignorance thereof can be considered ignorance of the law. This view, however, has not gained any track record in the writings and discussions by prominent authors.

In the light of the majority view, the law in a foreign country with respect to succession rights to the estate of a citizen of that country, domiciled in the Philippines at the moment of death, is a question of fact which must duly be ascertained in a proceeding held in the probate court. (PCIB v. Hon. Venicio Escolin, L-27860 and L-27896, Mar. 29, 1974; Testate Estate of the Late Linnie Jane Hodges, et al. v. Lorenzo Carlos, et al., L-27936 and L-27937, Mar. 28, 1974)

Philippine courts will not presume or take judicial notice of what a foreign law says or if the same exists. It is up to the party claiming such content or existence, using relevant and competent evidence that will persuade the mind of the court.

If there is no allegation and proof of the foreign law's existence or content, the presumption is that it is the same as Philippine laws. (Suntay v. Suntay, L-3087, July 31, 1954) In one case, the Supreme Court said:
If we adopt the view of Manresa, the law determinative of the property relation of the Stevensons, married in 1909, would be the English law even if the marriage was celebrated in the Philippines, both of them being foreigners. But, as correctly observed by the Tax Court, the pertinent English law that allegedly vests in the decedent husband full ownership of the properties acquired during the marriage has not been proven by petitioner. Except for a mere allegation in his answer, which is not sufficient, the record is bereft of any evidence as to what English law says on the matter. In the absence of proof, the Court is justified, therefore, in indulging in what Wharton calls "processual presumption," in presuming that the law of England on this matter is the same as our law.
Nor do we believe petitioner can make use of Article 16 of the New Civil Code (art. 10, old Civil Code) to bolster his stand. A reading of Article 10 of the old Civil Code, which incidentally is the one applicable, shows that it does not encompass or contemplate to govern the question of property relation between spouses. Said article distinctly speaks of amount of successional rights and this term, in speaks in our opinion, properly refers to the extent or amount of property that each heir is legally entitled to inherit from the estate available for distribution. It needs to be pointed out that the property relation of spouses, as distinguished from their successional rights, is governed differently by the specific and express provisions of Title VI, Chapter I of our new Civil Code (Title III, Chapter I of the old Civil Code.) We, therefore, find that the lower court correctly deducted the half of the conjugal property in determining the hereditary estate left by the deceased Stevenson. (Coll. of Int. Rev. v. Fisher, et al., L-11622 and L-11668, Jan. 28, 1961)
Therefore, marriage celebrated in a foreign country and officiated by a village chief must be proved to have been done in accordance with the laws of said country. Without such proof, Philippine courts will presume that family and marriage laws therein are the same as those governing this jurisdiction. (Wong Woo Yiu v. Vivo, et al., L-21076, March 31, 1965)

"The statutes of other countries or estates must be pleaded and proved the same as any other fact. Courts can not take judicial notice of what such laws are. In the absence of pleading and proof the laws of a foreign country or state will be presumed to be the same as our own." (Yam Ka Lim v. Collector of Customs, 30 Phil., 46). "In the absence of anything to the contrary as to the character of a foreign law, it will be presumed to be the same as the domestic law on the same subject." (Lim and Lim v. Collector of Customs, 36 Phil., 472). "In the absence of evidence to the contrary foreign laws on a particular subject are presumed to be the same as those of the Philippines." (Miciano v. Brimo, 50 Phil., 867). Since our law only recognizes a marriage celebrated before any of the officers mentioned therein, and a village leader is not one of them, it is clear that petitioner’s marriage, even if true, cannot be recognized in this jurisdiction. (G.R. No. L-21076, March 31, 1965)

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