Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tuason vs. CA (GR 116607)

Facts: In 1989, private respondent Maria Victoria Lopez Tuason filed with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 149, Makati a petition for annulment or declaration of nullity of her marriage to petitioner Emilio R. Tuason. In her complaint, private respondent alleged that she and petitioner were married on June 3, 1972 and from this union, begot two children; that at the time of the marriage, petitioner was already psychologically incapacitated to comply with his essential marital obligations which became manifest afterward and resulted in violent fights between husband and wife; that in one of their fights, petitioner inflicted physical injuries on private respondent which impelled her to file a criminal case for physical injuries against him; that petitioner used prohibited drugs, was apprehended by the authorities and sentenced to a one-year suspended penalty and has not been rehabilitated; that petitioner was a womanizer, and in 1984, he left the conjugal home and cohabited with three women in succession, one of whom he presented to the public as his wife; that after he left the conjugal dwelling, petitioner gave minimal support to the family and even refused to pay for the tuition fees of their children compelling private respondent to accept donations and dole-outs from her family and friends; that petitioner likewise became a spendthrift and abused his administration of the conjugal partnership by alienating some of their assets and incurring large obligations with banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions, without private respondent’s consent; that attempts at reconciliation were made but they all failed because of petitioner’s refusal to reform. In addition to her prayer for annulment of marriage, private respondent prayed for powers of administration to save the conjugal properties from further dissipation. 

Petitioner answered denying the imputations against him. As affirmative defense, he claimed that he and private respondent were a normal married couple during the first ten years of their marriage and actually begot two children during this period; that it was only in 1982 that they began to have serious personal differences when his wife did not accord the respect and dignity due him as a husband but treated him like a persona non grata; that due to the “extreme animosities” between them, he temporarily left the conjugal home for a “cooling-off period” in 1984; that it is private respondent who had been taking prohibited drugs and had a serious affair with another man; that petitioner’s work as owner and operator of a radio and television station exposed him to malicious gossip linking him to various women in media and the entertainment world; and that since 1984, he experienced financial reverses in his business and was compelled, with the knowledge of his wife, to dispose of some of the conjugal shares in exclusive golf and country clubs. Petitioner petitioned the court to allow him to return to the conjugal home and continue his administration of the conjugal partnership. 

Issue: Whether or not a petition for relief from judgment is warranted under the circumstances of the case. 

Held: The petition is denied and the decision dated July 29, 1994 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CV No. 37925 is affirmed. 

A grant of annulment of marriage or legal separation by default is fraught with the danger of collusion. Hence, in all cases for annulment, declaration of nullity of marriage and legal separation, the prosecuting attorney or fiscal is ordered to appear on behalf of the state for the purpose of preventing any collusion between the parties and to take care that their evidence is not fabricated or suppressed. If the defendant spouse fails to answer the complaint, the court cannot declare him or her in default but instead, should order the prosecuting attorney to determine if collusion exists between the parties. The prosecuting attorney or fiscal may oppose the application for legal separation or annulment through the presentation of his own evidence, if in his opinion, the proof adduced is dubious and fabricated. Our Constitution is committed to the policy of strengthening the family as a basic social institution. Our family law is based on the policy that marriage is not a mere contract, but a social institution in which the state is vitally interested. The state can find no stronger anchor than on good, solid and happy families. The break up of families weakens our social and moral fabric and, hence, their preservation is not the concern alone of the family members. 

The facts in the case at bar do not call for the strict application of Articles 48 and 60 of the Family Code. For one, petitioner was not declared in default by the trial court for failure to answer. Petitioner filed his answer to the complaint and contested the cause of action alleged by private respondent. He actively participated in the proceedings below by filing several pleadings and cross-examining the witnesses of private respondent. It is crystal clear that every stage of the litigation was characterized by a no-holds barred contest and not by collusion. 

The role of the prosecuting attorney or fiscal in annulment of marriage and legal separation proceedings is to determine whether collusion exists between the parties and to take care that the evidence is not suppressed or fabricated. Petitioner’s vehement opposition to the annulment proceedings negates the conclusion that collusion existed between the parties. There is no allegation by the petitioner that evidence was suppressed or fabricated by any of the parties. Under these circumstances, we are convinced that the non-intervention of a prosecuting attorney to assure lack of collusion between the contending parties is not fatal to the validity of the proceedings in the trial court. 

Petitioner also refutes the testimonies of private respondent’s witnesses, particularly Dr. Samuel Wiley and Ms. Adelita Prieto, as biased, incredible and hearsay. Petitioner alleges that if he were able to present his evidence, he could have testified that he was not psychologically incapacitated at the time of the marriage as indicated by the fact that during their first ten years, he and private respondent lived together with their children as one normal and happy family, that he continued supporting his family even after he left the conjugal dwelling and that his work as owner and operator of a radio and television corporation places him in the public eye and makes him a good subject for malicious gossip linking him with various women. These facts, according to petitioner, should disprove the ground for annulment of his marriage to petitioner. 

Suffice it to state that the finding of the trial court as to the existence or non-existence of petitioner’s psychological incapacity at the time of the marriage is final and binding on us. Petitioner has not sufficiently shown that the trial court’s factual findings and evaluation of the testimonies of private respondent’s witnesses vis-a-vis petitioner’s defenses are clearly and manifestly erroneous.

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