Monday, February 20, 2012

Llorente vs. Court of Appeals, G. R. No. 124371, November 23, 2000

Facts: On February 22, 1937, Lorenzo and petitioner Paula were married before a parish priest in Nabua, Camarines Sur.

On November 30, 1943, Lorenzo was admitted to United States citizenship and Certificate of Naturalization No. 5579816 was issued in his favor by the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.

Upon the liberation of the Philippines by the American Forces in 1945, Lorenzo was granted an accrued leave by the U. S. Navy, to visit his wife and he visited the Philippines. He discovered that his wife Paula was pregnant and was “living in” and having an adulterous relationship with his brother, Ceferino Llorente.

Lorenzo refused to forgive Paula and live with her . He then returned to the United States and on November 16, 1951 filed for divorce with the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of San Diego. Paula was represented by counsel, John Riley, and actively participated in the proceedings. On November 27, 1951, the Superior Court of the State of California, for the County of San Diego found all factual allegations to be true and issued an interlocutory judgment of divorce.

On December 4, 1952, the divorce decree became final.

Lorenzo went back to the Philippines and on January 16, 1958 married Alicia F. Llorente in Manila.

From 1958 to 1985, Lorenzo and Alicia lived together as husband and wife.Their twenty-five (25) year union produced three children, Raul, Luz and Beverly, all surnamed Llorente.

On March 13, 1981, Lorenzo executed a Last Will and Testament. The will was notarized by Notary Public Salvador M. Occiano, duly signed by Lorenzo with attesting witnesses Francisco Hugo, Francisco Neibres and Tito Trajano. In the will, Lorenzo bequeathed all his property to Alicia and their three children.

On December 14, 1983, Lorenzo filed with the Regional Trial Court, Iriga, Camarines Sur, a petition for the probate and allowance of his last will and testament wherein Lorenzo moved that Alicia be appointed Special Administratrix of his estate.

On January 24, 1984, finding that the will was duly executed, the trial court admitted the will to probate but before the proceedings could be terminated , Lorenzo died.

Paula filed with the same court a petition for letters of administration over Lorenzo’s estate in her favor contending that she was Lorenzo’s surviving spouse, that such properties were acquired during their marriage and that Lorenzo’s will would encroach her legitime.

Alicia filed in the testate proceeding , a petition for the issuance of letters testamentary.

On October 14, 1985, without terminating the testate proceedings, the trial court gave due course to Paula’s petition.

The Regional Trial Court found that the divorce decree granted to the late Lorenzo Llorente is void and inapplicable in the Philippines, therefore the marriage he contracted with Alicia Fortunato on January 16, 1958 at Manila is likewise void. This being so the petition of Alicia F. Llorente for the issuance of letters testamentary is denied. Likewise, she is not entitled to receive any share from the estate even if the will especially said so her relationship with Lorenzo having gained the status of paramour which is under Art. 739 (1).

“Petitioner, Paula Llorente is appointed legal administrator of the estate of the deceased, Lorenzo Llorente. 

Who are entitled to inherit from the late Lorenzo N. Llorente?

Held:  The trial court held that the will was intrinsically invalid since it contained dispositions in favor of Alice, who in the trial court’s opinion was a mere paramour. The trial court threw the will out, leaving Alice, and her two children, Raul and Luz, with nothing.

The Court of Appeals also disregarded the will. It declared Alice entitled to one half (1/2) of whatever property she and Lorenzo acquired during their cohabitation, applying Article 144 of the Civil Code of the Philippines.

The hasty application of Philippine law and the complete disregard of the will, already probated as duly executed in accordance with the formalities of Philippine law, is fatal, especially in light of the factual and legal circumstances here obtaining.

Lorenzo N. Llorente became an American citizen long before and at the time of: (1) his divorce from Paula; (2) marriage to Alicia; (3) execution of his will; and (4) death, is duly established, admitted and undisputed.

Thus, as a rule, issues arising from these incidents are necessarily governed by foreign law. “

Art. 16. Real property as well as personal property is subject to the law of the country where it is situated.

“However, intestate and testamentary succession, both with respect to the order of succession and to the amount of successional rights and to the intrinsic validity of testamentary provisions, shall be regulated by the national law of the person whose succession is under consideration, whatever may be the nature of the property and regardless of the country wherein said property may be found.”

But the hasty disregard of both the RTC and CA of Lorenzo’s Will by calling to the fore the RENVOI doctrine, claiming that American law follows domiciliary rule is unjustified. There is no such thing as American law for the whole nation of the US, for the country comprises of a group of States, each State having its own applicable law, enforceable only within that state.

As to the validity of the foreign divorce , jurisprudence reiterates that once it is proven that an individual is no longer a Filipino, thus an alien, when he obtains a divorce abroad, its effects shall be recognized in the Philippines.

The Supreme Court held that the divorce obtained by Lorenzo H. Llorente from his first wife Paula was valid and recognized in this jurisdiction as a matter of comity.

Now, the effects of this divorce (as to the succession to the estate of the decedent) are matters best left to the determination of the trial court.

Whether the will is intrinsically valid and who shall inherit from Lorenzo are issues best proved by foreign law which must be pleaded and proved. Whether the will was executed in accordance with the formalities required is answered by referring to Philippine law. In fact, the will was duly probated.

The decision of the CA is set aside and that of the RTC is reversed. Court REMANDS the cases to the court of origin for determination of the intrinsic validity of Lorenzo N. Llorente’s will and determination of the parties’ successional rights allowing proof of foreign law with instructions that the trial court shall proceed with all deliberate dispatch to settle the estate of the deceased within the framework of the Rules of Court.

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