CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0060


“A baptismal certificate has evidentiary value to prove filiation only if considered alongside other evidence of filiation.


CASE: Heirs of Paula C. Fabillar, as represented by Aureo Fabillar vs. Miguel M. Paller, Florentina P. Abayan, and Demetria P. Sagales [G.R. No. 231459, January 21, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe

SUBJECT:
A.       CIVIL LAW:
          i.        Proof of filiation – Baptismal certificate
          ii.       Article 172 of the Family Code

B.       REMEDIAL LAW:
          i.        Special proceedings – Declaration of heirship

FACTS:        This case stemmed from a Complaint for Recovery of Ownership, Possession, and Damages filed by respondents, Miguel Paller et. al., against Spouses Custodio and Paula (collectively, the Custodios) involving a parcel of agricultural coconut land situated in Sitio Cabotjo-an, Brgy. Parina, Giporlos, Eastern Samar, with an assessed value of P950.00.

Respondents claimed that the subject land was originally owned by their grandfather, Marcelino Paller (Marcelino). After the latter’s death, respondents’ father, Ambrosio, was given his share of the subject land.

In 1995, respondent Demetria, daughter of Ambrosio, mortgaged the subject land to Felix R. Aide with right to repurchase. Upon her return from Manila in 2000, she redeemed the same but discovered that the Custodios took possession of the land and refused to vacate therefrom despite demands; hence, the complaint.

In their Answer, the Custodios claimed to be legitimate and compulsory heirs of Marcelino. They averred that respondent’s father, Ambrosio, is not a child of Marcelino and, as such, has no right to claim the subject land.

To support respondents’ claim that Ambrosio is a child of Marcelino and Susana Paller, they presented a copy of Ambrosio’s baptismal certificate indicating that his father was Marcelino.

The issue of whether or not Ambrosio is one of the children of Marcelino was raised by both parties in their respective pre-trial briefs.

The MCTC declared respondents as the lawful owners of the subject land, and ordered the Custodios to surrender the ownership and physical possession of the subject land, and to pay actual damages. It gave weight to the baptismal certificate as sufficient and competent proof of Ambrosio’s filiation with Marcelino which the Custodios failed to successfully overthrow.

Aggrieved, the Custodios appealed to the RTC, but in a Decision, the RTC affirmed the MCTC ruling.

Dissatisfied, Spouses Custodio and herein petitioners, heirs of Paula, elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals (CA), raisingthe defense of failure to state a cause of action for failure to declare heirship prior to the institution of the complaint in accordance with the case of Heirs of Yaptinchay v. Hon. del Rosario [363 Phil. 393 (1999)].

The CA affirmed the RTC Decision, finding Marcelino to be the father of Ambrosio, thereby declaring that respondents, as children of Ambrosio, have a right over the subject land. It rejected the Custodios’ claim of lack of cause of action for failure to declare heirship prior to the institution of the complaint for having been raised only for the first time on appeal.

Petitioners and Spouses Custodio filed their motion for reconsiderationwhich was denied; hence, this petition solely filed by petitioners.

Petitioners insist that the filiation of Ambrosio to Marcelino can only be successfully proved by virtue of declaration of heirship by a competent court in a special proceeding, absent which, respondents cannot claim any right over the subject land. Moreover, they insist that mere allegations in the complaint and the presentation of Ambrosio’s baptismal certificate cannot be considered as competent proof of the claimed filiation.


ISSUES:
A.       Whether filiation of Ambrosio to Marcelino can only be made in a special proceeding for declaration of heirship.
          a.       Whether there is a need to institute a separate special proceeding for the declaration of Ambrosio’s heirship.

B.       Whether Ambrosio’s baptismal certificate can be considered as competent proof of the claimed filiation with Marcelino.
          a.       What are proofs of filiation?
          b.       Who has the burden of proof in establishing filiation?


RULING:
A.       A special proceeding for declaration of heirship is not necessary in the present case, considering that the parties voluntarily submitted the issue of heirship before the trial court.

Although the principal action in this case was for the recovery of ownership and possession of the subject land, it is necessary to pass upon the relationship of Ambrosio to Marcelino for the purpose of determining what legal rights he may have in the subject land which he can pass to his heirs. Notably, the issue of whether or not Ambrosio is one of the children of Marcelino was squarely raised by both parties in their respective pre-trial briefs. Hence, insofar as the parties in this case are concerned, the trial court is empowered to make a declaration of heirship, if only to resolve the issue of ownership.

To be sure, while the Court, in Yaptinchay ruled that a declaration of heirship can only be made in a special proceeding inasmuch as what is sought is the establishment of a status or right, by way of exception, the Court, in Heirs of Ypon v. Ricaforte [713 Phil. 570 (2013)], declared that “the need to institute a separate special proceeding for the determination of heirship may be dispensed with for the sake of practicality, as when the parties in the civil case had voluntarily submitted the issue to the trial court and already presented their evidence regarding the issue of heirship,” and “the trial court had consequently rendered judgment upon the issues it defined during the pre-trial,” as in this case. Indeed, recourse to special proceedings to determine who the heirs are is sanctioned only if there are good and compelling reasons for such recourse, which is absent herein, as both parties voluntarily submitted the issue of Ambrosio’s heirship with Marcelinobefore the trial court. Thus, the case falls under the exception, and there is no need to institute a separate special proceeding for the declaration of Ambrosio’s heirship.


B.       Ambrosio’s baptismal certificate cannot be considered as competent proof of the claimed filiation with Marcelino.

In the absence of the record of birth and admission of legitimate filiation, Article 172of the Family Code (Code) provides that filiation shall be proved by any other means allowed by the Rules of Court and special laws. Such other proof of one’s filiation may be a baptismal certificate, a judicial admission, a family Bible in which his name has been entered, common reputation respecting his pedigree, admission by silence, the testimonies of witnesses, and other kinds of proof admissible under Rule 130 of the Rules of Court (Rules).Article 175of the same Code also allows illegitimate children to establish their filiation in the same way and on the same evidence as that of legitimate children.

However, it is jurisprudentially settled that a baptismal certificate has evidentiary value to prove filiation only if considered alongside other evidence of filiation (Heirs of Roldan v. Heirs of Roldan, G.R. No. 202578, September 27, 2017). Because the putative parent has no hand in the preparation of a baptismal certificate, the same has scant evidentiary value if taken in isolation; while it may be considered a public document, “it can only serve as evidence of the administration of the sacrament on the date specified, but not the veracity of the entries with respect to the child’s paternity.” As such, a baptismal certificate alone is not sufficient to resolve a disputed filiation, and the courts must peruse other pieces of evidence instead of relying only on a canonical record.

In this case, the MCTC, the RTC, and the CA did not appreciate any other material proof related to the baptismal certificate of Ambrosio that would establish his filiation with Marcelino, whether as a legitimate or an illegitimate son. Contrary to the ruling of the said courts, the burden of proof is on respondents to establish their affirmative allegation that Marcelino is Ambrosio’s father [Go Kim Huy v. Go Kim Huy, 417 Phil. 822 (2001)], and not for petitioners to disprove the same, because a baptismal certificate is neither conclusive proof of filiation /parentage nor of the status of legitimacy or illegitimacy of the person baptized.

Further, the Court finds that respondents failed to establish the identity of the land they were seeking to recover, in the first place.

Related Case Briefs:
a)       Heirs of Yaptinchay v. Hon. del Rosario, 363 Phil. 393 (1999)
b)       Heirs of Ypon v. Ricaforte 713 Phil. 570 (2013)
c)       Heirs of Roldan v. Heirs of Roldan, G.R. No. 202578, September 27, 2017
d)       Go Kim Huy v. Go Kim Huy, 417 Phil. 822 (2001)
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THINGS DECIDED:

A.       While the Court, in Yaptinchay ruled that a declaration of heirship can only be made in a special proceeding inasmuch as what is sought is the establishment of a status or right, by way of exception, the Court, in Heirs of Ypon v. Ricaforte [713 Phil. 570 (2013)], declared that “the need to institute a separate special proceeding for the determination of heirship may be dispensed with for the sake of practicality, as when the parties in the civil case had voluntarily submitted the issue to the trial court and already presented their evidence regarding the issue of heirship,” and “the trial court had consequently rendered judgment upon the issues it defined during the pre-trial”.

B.       In the absence of the record of birth and admission of legitimate filiation, Article 172of the Family Code (Code) provides that filiation shall be proved by any other means allowed by the Rules of Court and special laws. Such other proof of one’s filiation may be a baptismal certificate, a judicial admission, a family Bible in which his name has been entered, common reputation respecting his pedigree, admission by silence, the testimonies of witnesses, and other kinds of proof admissible under Rule 130 of the Rules of Court (Rules).Article 175of the same Code also allows illegitimate children to establish their filiation in the same way and on the same evidence as that of legitimate children.

C.       A baptismal certificate has evidentiary value to prove filiation only if considered alongside other evidence of filiation (Heirs of Roldan v. Heirs of Roldan, G.R. No. 202578, September 27, 2017). Because the putative parent has no hand in the preparation of a baptismal certificate, the same has scant evidentiary value if taken in isolation; while it may be considered a public document, “it can only serve as evidence of the administration of the sacrament on the date specified, but not the veracity of the entries with respect to the child’s paternity.” 

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