SC Revisits ‘Iron Curtain Rule’ in Succession Law, Upholds Best Interest of the Child

Children, regardless of their parents’ marital status, can now inherit from their grandparents and other direct ascendants by right of representation.

In a Decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, the Court En Banc reinterpreted Article 992 of the Civil Code, which prohibits nonmarital children from inheriting from their siblings who are marital children, as well as “relatives of [their] father or mother[.]” The Decision used the terms “marital” and “nonmarital” to replace the terms “legitimate” and “illegitimate” when referring to the children, as the latter terms are pejorative terms when used to describe children based on their parents’ marital status. 

This case involves a woman who claims to be the nonmarital child of a man who died before she was born. After her alleged paternal grandfather died, she asserted her right to represent her deceased father—a marital child—in inheriting from her grandfather’s estate. 

However, in previous cases, the Court had interpreted Article 992 as barring nonmarital children from inheriting from their grandparents and other direct ascendants, as they are covered by the term “relatives.” The Supreme Court had called this prohibition the “iron curtain rule,” inferred from a perceived hostility between the marital and nonmarital sides of a family. 

Now, the Court reexamined the iron curtain rule, finding that Article 992 “should be construed to account for other circumstances of birth and family dynamics. Peace within families cannot be encouraged by callously depriving some of its members of their inheritance.  Such deprivation may even be the cause of antagonism and alienation that could have been otherwise avoided.”

The Court also recognized that nonmarital children primarily suffer the consequences imposed by laws, despite the status being beyond their power to change. Some children may be nonmarital because their parents choose not to marry; in 2016, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that, from 2007 to 2016, there was 14.4% decline in registered marriages in the country. Other children may be nonmarital because one or both of their parents are below marriageable age. In 2017 alone, 196,478 children were born to mothers 19 years old and under, and 52,342 children were sired by fathers 19 years old and under. There are also children who are nonmarital when their mother was a survivor of sexual assault who did not marry the perpetrator; or when one parent dies before they can marry the other parent. 

Departing from regressive conjectures about family life in favor of the best interests of the child, the Court abandoned the presumption that “nonmarital children are products of illicit relationships or that they are automatically placed in a hostile environment perpetrated by the marital family.”  

The Court ruled that grandparents and other direct ascendants are outside the scope of “relatives” under Article 992. “Both marital and nonmarital children, whether born from a marital or nonmarital child, are blood relatives of their parents and other ascendants.” Thus, a nonmarital child’s right of representation should be governed by Article 982 of the Civil Code, which does not differentiate based on the birth status of grandchildren and other direct descendants. 

The two amici curiae appointed by the Court, Dean Cynthia Del Castillo and Professor Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, also contributed insights on the Civil Code, Family Code, and jurisprudential treatment of nonmarital children.

However, because of factual issues with the nonmarital child’s claim of filiation, the Court remanded the case to the Regional Trial Court and ordered it to receive further evidence, including DNA evidence. It emphasized that DNA testing is a valid method of determining filiation in all cases where this is an issue. (G.R. Nos. 208912 and 209018, Aquino v. Aquino, December 7, 2021)

SOURCE: SC Revisits ‘Iron Curtain Rule’ in Succession Law, Upholds Best Interest of the Child | Supreme Court of the Philippines (judiciary.gov.ph)

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