466 Phil. 1013

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 145226, February 06, 2004 ]

LUCIO MORIGO Y CACHO, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

D E C I S I O N

QUISUMBING, J.:

This petition for review on certiorari seeks to reverse the decision[1] dated October 21, 1999 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 20700, which affirmed the judgment[2] dated August 5, 1996 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Bohol, Branch 4, in Criminal Case No. 8688. The trial court found herein petitioner Lucio Morigo y Cacho guilty beyond reasonable doubt of bigamy and sentenced him to a prison term of seven (7) months of prision correccional as minimum to six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as maximum. Also assailed in this petition is the resolution[3] of the appellate court, dated September 25, 2000, denying Morigo’s motion for reconsideration.
The facts of this case, as found by the court a quo, are as follows:

Appellant Lucio Morigo and Lucia Barrete were boardmates at the house of Catalina Tortor at Tagbilaran City, Province of Bohol, for a period of four (4) years (from 1974-1978).

After school year 1977-78, Lucio Morigo and Lucia Barrete lost contact with each other.

In 1984, Lucio Morigo was surprised to receive a card from Lucia Barrete from Singapore. The former replied and after an exchange of letters, they became sweethearts.

In 1986, Lucia returned to the Philippines but left again for Canada to work there. While in Canada, they maintained constant communication.

In 1990, Lucia came back to the Philippines and proposed to petition appellant to join her in Canada. Both agreed to get married, thus they were married on August 30, 1990 at the Iglesia de Filipina Nacional at Catagdaan, Pilar, Bohol.

On September 8, 1990, Lucia reported back to her work in Canada leaving appellant Lucio behind.

On August 19, 1991, Lucia filed with the Ontario Court (General Division) a petition for divorce against appellant which was granted by the court on January 17, 1992 and to take effect on February 17, 1992.

On October 4, 1992, appellant Lucio Morigo married Maria Jececha Lumbago[4] at the Virgen sa Barangay Parish, Tagbilaran City, Bohol.

On September 21, 1993, accused filed a complaint for judicial declaration of nullity of marriage in the Regional Trial Court of Bohol, docketed as Civil Case No. 6020. The complaint seek (sic) among others, the declaration of nullity of accused’s marriage with Lucia, on the ground that no marriage ceremony actually took place.

On October 19, 1993, appellant was charged with Bigamy in an Information[5] filed by the City Prosecutor of Tagbilaran [City], with the Regional Trial Court of Bohol.[6]
The petitioner moved for suspension of the arraignment on the ground that the civil case for judicial nullification of his marriage with Lucia posed a prejudicial question in the bigamy case. His motion was granted, but subsequently denied upon motion for reconsideration by the prosecution. When arraigned in the bigamy case, which was docketed as Criminal Case No. 8688, herein petitioner pleaded not guilty to the charge. Trial thereafter ensued.

On August 5, 1996, the RTC of Bohol handed down its judgment in Criminal Case No. 8688, as follows:
WHEREFORE, foregoing premises considered, the Court finds accused Lucio Morigo y Cacho guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Bigamy and sentences him to suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from Seven (7) Months of Prision Correccional as minimum to Six (6) Years and One (1) Day of Prision Mayor as maximum.

SO ORDERED.[7]
In convicting herein petitioner, the trial court discounted petitioner’s claim that his first marriage to Lucia was null and void ab initio.  Following Domingo v. Court of Appeals,[8] the trial court ruled that want of a valid marriage ceremony is not a defense in a charge of bigamy.  The parties to a marriage should not be allowed to assume that their marriage is void even if such be the fact but must first secure a judicial declaration of the nullity of their marriage before they can be allowed to marry again.

Anent the Canadian divorce obtained by Lucia, the trial court cited Ramirez v. Gmur,[9] which held that the court of a country in which neither of the spouses is domiciled and in which one or both spouses may resort merely for the purpose of obtaining a divorce, has no jurisdiction to determine the matrimonial status of the parties.  As such, a divorce granted by said court is not entitled to recognition anywhere. Debunking Lucio’s defense of good faith in contracting the second marriage, the trial court stressed that following People v. Bitdu,[10] everyone is presumed to know the law, and the fact that one does not know that his act constitutes a violation of the law does not exempt him from the consequences thereof.

Seasonably, petitioner filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals, docketed as CA-G.R. CR No. 20700.

Meanwhile, on October 23, 1997, or while CA-G.R. CR No. 20700 was pending before the appellate court, the trial court rendered a decision in Civil Case No. 6020 declaring the marriage between Lucio and Lucia void ab initio since no marriage ceremony actually took place. No appeal was taken from this decision, which then became final and executory.

On October 21, 1999, the appellate court decided CA-G.R. CR No. 20700 as follows:
WHEREFORE, finding no error in the appealed decision, the same is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.

SO ORDERED.[11]
In affirming the assailed judgment of conviction, the appellate court stressed that the subsequent declaration of nullity of Lucio’s marriage to Lucia in Civil Case No. 6020 could not acquit Lucio.  The reason is that what is sought to be punished by Article 349[12] of the Revised Penal Code is the act of contracting a second marriage before the first marriage had been dissolved. Hence, the CA held, the fact that the first marriage was void from the beginning is not a valid defense in a bigamy case.

The Court of Appeals also pointed out that the divorce decree obtained by Lucia from the Canadian court could not be accorded validity in the Philippines, pursuant to Article 15[13] of the Civil Code and given the fact that it is contrary to public policy in this jurisdiction. Under Article 17[14] of the Civil Code, a declaration of public policy cannot be rendered ineffectual by a judgment promulgated in a foreign jurisdiction.

Petitioner moved for reconsideration of the appellate court’s decision, contending that the doctrine in Mendiola v. People,[15] allows mistake upon a difficult question of law (such as the effect of a foreign divorce decree) to be a basis for good faith.

On September 25, 2000, the appellate court denied the motion for lack of merit.[16] However, the denial was by a split vote. The ponente of the appellate court’s original decision in CA-G.R. CR No. 20700, Justice Eugenio S. Labitoria, joined in the opinion prepared by Justice Bernardo P. Abesamis.  The dissent observed that as the first marriage was validly declared void ab initio, then there was no first marriage to speak of. Since the date of the nullity retroacts to the date of the first marriage and since herein petitioner was, in the eyes of the law, never married, he cannot be convicted beyond reasonable doubt of bigamy.
The present petition raises the following issues for our resolution:

A.

WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN FAILING TO APPLY THE RULE THAT IN CRIMES PENALIZED UNDER THE REVISED PENAL CODE, CRIMINAL INTENT IS AN INDISPENSABLE REQUISITE. COROLLARILY, WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN FAILING TO APPRECIATE [THE] PETITIONER’S LACK OF CRIMINAL INTENT WHEN HE CONTRACTED THE SECOND MARRIAGE.

B.

WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE RULING IN PEOPLE VS. BITDU (58 PHIL. 817) IS APPLICABLE TO THE CASE AT BAR.

C.

WHETHER OR NOT THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN FAILING TO APPLY THE RULE THAT EACH AND EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE FAVORING THE INNOCENCE OF THE ACCUSED MUST BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT.[17]
To our mind, the primordial issue should be whether or not petitioner committed bigamy and if so, whether his defense of good faith is valid.

The petitioner submits that he should not be faulted for relying in good faith upon the divorce decree of the Ontario court.  He highlights the fact that he contracted the second marriage openly and publicly, which a person intent upon bigamy would not be doing. The petitioner further argues that his lack of criminal intent is material to a conviction or acquittal in the instant case.  The crime of bigamy, just like other felonies punished under the Revised Penal Code, is mala in se, and hence, good faith and lack of criminal intent are allowed as a complete defense. He stresses that there is a difference between the intent to commit the crime and the intent to perpetrate the act. Hence, it does not necessarily follow that his intention to contract a second marriage is tantamount to an intent to commit bigamy.

For the respondent, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) submits that good faith in the instant case is a convenient but flimsy excuse. The Solicitor General relies upon our ruling in Marbella-Bobis v. Bobis,[18] which held that bigamy can be successfully prosecuted provided all the elements concur, stressing that under Article 40[19] of the Family Code, a judicial declaration of nullity is a must before a party may re-marry. Whether or not the petitioner was aware of said Article 40 is of no account as everyone is presumed to know the law.  The OSG counters that petitioner’s contention that he was in good faith because he relied on the divorce decree of the Ontario court is negated by his act of filing Civil Case No. 6020, seeking a judicial declaration of nullity of his marriage to Lucia.

Before we delve into petitioner’s defense of good faith and lack of criminal intent, we must first determine whether all the elements of bigamy are present in this case. In Marbella-Bobis v. Bobis,[20] we laid down the elements of bigamy thus:
    (1)  the offender has been legally married;

    (2) the first marriage has not been legally dissolved, or in case his or her spouse is absent, the absent spouse has not been judicially declared presumptively dead;

    (3) he contracts a subsequent marriage; and

    (4) the subsequent marriage would have been valid had it not been for the existence of the first.
Applying the foregoing test to the instant case, we note that during the pendency of CA-G.R. CR No. 20700, the RTC of Bohol Branch 1, handed down the following decision in Civil Case No. 6020, to wit:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered decreeing the annulment of the marriage entered into by petitioner Lucio Morigo and Lucia Barrete on August 23, 1990 in Pilar, Bohol and further directing the Local Civil Registrar of Pilar, Bohol to effect the cancellation of the marriage contract.

SO ORDERED.[21]
The trial court found that there was no actual marriage ceremony performed between Lucio and Lucia by a solemnizing officer. Instead, what transpired was a mere signing of the marriage contract by the two, without the presence of a solemnizing officer. The trial court thus held that the marriage is void ab initio, in accordance with Articles 3[22] and 4[23] of the Family Code. As the dissenting opinion in CA-G.R. CR No. 20700, correctly puts it, “This simply means that there was no marriage to begin with; and that such declaration of nullity retroacts to the date of the first marriage. In other words, for all intents and purposes, reckoned from the date of the declaration of the first marriage as void ab initio to the date of the celebration of the first marriage, the accused was, under the eyes of the law, never married.”[24] The records show that no appeal was taken from the decision of the trial court in Civil Case No. 6020, hence, the decision had long become final and executory.

The first element of bigamy as a crime requires that the accused must have been legally married. But in this case, legally speaking, the petitioner was never married to Lucia Barrete. Thus, there is no first marriage to speak of.  Under the principle of retroactivity of a marriage being declared void ab initio, the two were never married “from the beginning.”  The contract of marriage is null; it bears no legal effect.  Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, for legal purposes, petitioner was not married to Lucia at the time he contracted the marriage with Maria Jececha. The existence and the validity of the first marriage being an essential element of the crime of bigamy, it is but logical that a conviction for said offense cannot be sustained where there is no first marriage to speak of. The petitioner, must, perforce be acquitted of the instant charge.

The present case is analogous to, but must be distinguished from Mercado v. Tan.[25] In the latter case, the judicial declaration of nullity of the first marriage was likewise obtained after the second marriage was already celebrated. We held therein that:
A judicial declaration of nullity of a previous marriage is necessary before a subsequent one can be legally contracted. One who enters into a subsequent marriage without first obtaining such judicial declaration is guilty of bigamy. This principle applies even if the earlier union is characterized by statutes as “void.”[26]
It bears stressing though that in Mercado, the first marriage was actually solemnized not just once, but twice: first before a judge where a marriage certificate was duly issued and then again six months later before a priest in religious rites. Ostensibly, at least, the first marriage appeared to have transpired, although later declared void ab initio.

In the instant case, however, no marriage ceremony at all was performed by a duly authorized solemnizing officer.  Petitioner and Lucia Barrete merely signed a marriage contract on their own. The mere private act of signing a marriage contract bears no semblance to a valid marriage and thus, needs no judicial declaration of nullity.  Such act alone, without more, cannot be deemed to constitute an ostensibly valid marriage for which petitioner might be held liable for bigamy unless he first secures a judicial declaration of nullity before he contracts a subsequent marriage.

The law abhors an injustice and the Court is mandated to liberally construe a penal statute in favor of an accused and weigh every circumstance in favor of the presumption of innocence to ensure that justice is done.  Under the circumstances of the present case, we held that petitioner has not committed bigamy.  Further, we also find that we need not tarry on the issue of the validity of his defense of good faith or lack of criminal intent, which is now moot and academic.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is GRANTED.  The assailed decision, dated October 21, 1999 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 20700, as well as the resolution of the appellate court dated September 25, 2000, denying herein petitioner’s motion for reconsideration, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  The petitioner Lucio Morigo y Cacho is ACQUITTED from the charge of BIGAMY on the ground that his guilt has not been proven with moral certainty.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 38-44. Penned by Associate Justice Eugenio S. Labitoria and concurred in by Associate Justices Marina L. Buzon and Edgardo P. Cruz.

[2] Records, pp. 114-119.

[3] Rollo, pp. 46-58. Per Associate Justice Edgardo P. Cruz, with Associate Justices Cancio C. Garcia and Marina L. Buzon, concurring and Eugenio S. Labitoria and Bernardo P. Abesamis, dissenting.

[4] Her correct name is Maria Jececha Limbago (Italics for emphasis). See Exh. “B,” the copy of their marriage contract.  Records, p. 10.

[5]The accusatory portion of the charge sheet found in Records, p. 1,  reads:
“That, on or about the 4th day of October, 1992, in the City of Tagbilaran, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused being previously united in lawful marriage with Lucia Barrete on August 23, 1990 and without the said marriage having been legally dissolved, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously contract a second marriage with Maria Jececha Limbago to the damage and prejudice of Lucia Barrete in the amount to be proved during trial.

“Acts committed contrary to the provisions of Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code.”
[6] Rollo, pp. 38-40.

[7] Records, p. 119.

[8] G.R. No. 104818, 17 September 1993, 226 SCRA 572.

[9] 42 Phil. 855, 863 (1918).

[10] 58 Phil. 817 (1933).

[11] Rollo, p. 43.

[12] ART. 349. Bigamy. – The penalty of prision mayor shall be imposed upon any person who shall contract a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings.

[13] Art. 15. Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad.

[14] Art. 17. The forms and solemnities of contracts, wills, and other public instruments shall be governed by the laws of the country in which they are executed.

When the acts referred to are executed before the diplomatic or consular officials of the Republic of the Philippines in a foreign country, the solemnities established by Philippine laws shall be observed in their execution.

Prohibitive laws concerning persons, their acts or property, and those which have for their object public order, public policy and good customs shall not be rendered ineffective by laws or judgments promulgated, or by determinations or conventions agreed upon in a foreign country.

[15] G.R. Nos. 89983-84, 6 March 1992, 207 SCRA 85.

[16] Rollo, p. 51.

[17] Id. at 20-21.

[18] G.R. No. 138509, 31 July 2000, 336 SCRA 747, 752-753.

[19] Art. 40. The absolute nullity of a previous marriage may be invoked for purposes of remarriage on the basis solely of a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void.

[20] Supra.

[21] CA Rollo, p. 38.

[22] Art. 3. The formal requisites of marriage are:
(1) Authority of the solemnizing officer;
(2)  A valid marriage license except in the cases provided for in Chapter 2 of this Title; and
(3)   A marriage ceremony which takes place with the appearance of the contracting parties before the solemnizing officer and their personal declaration that they take each other as husband and wife in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age.
[23] Art. 4. The absence of any of the essential or formal requisites shall render the marriage void ab initio, except as stated in Article 35 (2).

A defect in any of the essential requisites shall render the marriage voidable as provided in Article 45.

An irregularity in the formal requisites shall not affect the validity of the marriage but the party or parties responsible for the irregularity shall be civilly, criminally and administratively liable.

[24] Rollo, p. 54.

[25] G.R. No. 137110, 1 August 2000, 337 SCRA 122.

[26] Id. at 124.



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