Monday, February 20, 2012

Morigo vs. People of the Phils G. R. No. 145226, February 6, 2004

Facts: Lucio Morigo and Lucia Barrete were boardmates, after school year, they 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. On September 21, 1993, accused filed a complaint for judicial declaration of nullity of marriage in the Regional Trial Court of Bohol. The complaint seek 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 filed by the City Prosecutor of Tagbilaran, with the Regional Trial Court of Bohol. 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, 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, convicting the accused 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.

In convicting herein petitioner, the trial court discounted petitioner’s claim that his first marriage to Lucia was null and void ab initio. 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.

On October 23, 1997, while the criminal case 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.

However, the appelate court affirmed the decision of the lower court in toto. In affirming the assailed judgment of conviction, the appellate court stressed that the subsequent declaration of nullity of Lucio’s marriage to Lucia could not acquit Lucio. The reason is that what is sought to be punished by Article 349 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.

Issue: Whether or not petitioner committed bigamy.

Held: 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, which held that bigamy can be successfully prosecuted provided all the elements concur, stressing that under Article 40 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,  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 civil case, the RTC of Bohol Branch 1, rendered judgment 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.

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 and 4 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." 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.

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.

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