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Property rules

Raised without a right

Karen was heartbroken. The half-brothers of her father, Eugene and Emil, did the unimaginable.

She discovered that, after the death of her parents, her uncles executed a document entitled Pagmamana sa Labas ng Hukuman declaring themselves as the only heirs of her parents, thus adjudicating to themselves the house and lot left behind by her parents. Worse, Eugene and Emil took possession and were able to transfer the tax declaration of the subject property to their names.

Eugene and Emil denied any wrongdoing. They claimed that Ruffy and his wife, Carrie, never had a child. They claimed that Karen’s birth certificate was merely simulated. Ruffy and Carrie could not have registered Karen’s birth certificate in a province in the North because they had never lived or sojourned in the place and that Carrie never went on maternal leave.

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To prove their point, Eugene obtained a copy of Karen’s alleged birth certificate. It had irregular features. The entries were written in Pentel pen. The date of birth and the signature of the informant were altered.

In addition, he even showed Carrie’s service records showing that she did not have any maternity leave during the period of Karen’s alleged birth.

Karen was enraged by such accusation. She told her uncles that (a) her father, Ruffy, co-owned the subject property with the mother of her uncles; (b) when her father died, Carrie, executed an extra-judicial settlement of Ruffy’s estate entitled Pagmamanahan Sa Labas ng Hukuman Na May Pagtalikod Sa Karapatan, wherein she waived all her rights to Ruffy’s share in the land in question to Karen; (c) Carrie was even judicially appointed as the guardian of the person and estate of Karen; and that (d) Carrie had been paying the real estate taxes on the property, and only stopped when her uncles took possession of the land and had the tax declaration transferred to them.

Karen sued her uncles. In court, the official custodians of Karen’s birth certificate and Carrie’s employment record confirmed Eugene’s position.

Q: Can Eugene question the legitimacy of Karen?

A: It is true that the issue of legitimacy cannot be attacked collaterally. The legitimacy of the child can be impugned only in a direct action brought for that purpose, by the proper parties, and within the period limited by law. Save in exceptional circumstances, it is only the husband who can contest the legitimacy of a child born to his wife.

But the above rule does not obtain in the case of Karen. Her filiation is not at issue. Eugene does not claim that Karen is not the legitimate child of his deceased brother, Ruffy and Carrie. What Eugene argues is that Karen is not at all a child of the spouses, and hence not a legal heir of the deceased.

Q: What is the probative value of the birth certificate of Karen?

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A: None.

The following irregularities and the totality of the following circumstances surrounding the alleged birth of Karen are sufficient to overthrow the presumption of regularity attached to respondent’s birth certificate: (a) Karen’s birth certificate clearly shows that it was tampered specifically on the entries pertaining to the date of birth of respondent and the name of the informant; (b)  The NSO officer further confirmed, in open court, that the entries on the date of birth and the signature of the informant are alterations on the birth certificate which rendered the document questionable; (c) Karen did not offer any evidence to explain such irregularities on her own birth certificate; (d) the testimony of Carrie’s former employer that she never filed any maternity leave during her service.

It must be born in mind that the mere registration of a child in his or her birth certificate as the child of the supposed parents is not a valid adoption, does not confer upon the child the status of an adopted child and the legal rights of such child, and even amounts to simulation of the child’s birth or falsification of his or her birth certificate, which is a public document.

Furthermore, it is well-settled that a record of birth is merely a prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein. It is not conclusive evidence of the truthfulness of the statements made there by the interested parties.

Q: Can Karen therefore inherit?

A: No, since she is not the child at all of the deceased.

(Source: Geronimo vs. Santos, G.R. No. 197099, September 28, 2015)

The author is the Dean of Lyceum of the Philippines University; Chairperson of the Philippine Association of Law Schools; and founder of Mawis Law Office

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