The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the right of a legal wife over that of her late husband’s live-in partner over the dead man’s corpse.
The SC affirmed the rulings of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated October 2, 2006 and May 9, 2008 reversing the October 1, 1998 decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 77, which had ruled that petitioner Fe Floro Valino was entitled to the remains of the late lawyer Lope Adriano.
The high court ruling was penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza and defeated the dissent of Associate Justice Marvic Leonen with an en banc vote of three against two justices.
Rosario Adriano, the wife of Lope, who died while she and her children were abroad, charged Valino before the RTC.
Valino, the live-in partner of the deceased for several years, represented herself as his wife in the death certificate.
She was able to have the remains of the deceased interred at the Manila Memorial Park without Mrs. Adriano’s consent.
In the complaint, the latter averred that the RTC denied her and her children the right to view Lope, pay their last respects and have him buried at the Holy Cross Memorial Park in Quezon City, where the deceased had bought burial lots.
The lower court acquitted Valino in its May 20, 1997 decision, because it turned out that the lawful wife had known all along that her spouse and Valino had lived together as husband and wife for more than fifteen years.
Further, the court said that Valino did not intend to benefit from her alleged misrepresentation.
The RTC explained that it was in fact the complainant, not the accused, who had used her spouse’s death certificate to claim the benefits from his insurance, bank deposits and the Social Security System.
Valino was charged with violating Section 16 of the Civil Registry Act as amended by Section 9 of Presidential Decree 651.
In acquitting her, the court ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove her “intent to take advantage or to gain” when, in the death certificate, she misrepresented herself as the wife of complainant’s husband.
Adriano brought her case to the appeals tribunal which ruled in her favor.
Valino filed her petition with the high court to challenge the CA decision.
In upholding the ruling of the appeals court, the SC held that Valino’s move did not only violate the right of the legal family provided by law, “but it also disrespects the family because the remains of the patriarch are buried in the family plot of his live-in partner.”
However, the court found “laudable the acts of Valino in taking care of Atty. Adriano during his final moments and giving him a proper burial.”
In view of “her sacrifices, it would indeed be unkind to assess actual or moral damages against her,” it averred.
“[I]t should be said that controversies as to who should make arrangements for the funeral of a deceased have often aggravated the bereavement of the family and disturbed the proper solemnity which should prevail at every funeral. It is for the purpose of preventing such controversies that the Code Commission saw it best to include the provisions on ‘Funerals’.”
Meanwhile, two of the Court members, Justices Marvic Leonen and Roberto Abad, dissented, saying that the CA rulings must be reversed and set aside.
In a separate dissenting opinion, Leonen stressed that it was unfortunate that the majority of the high court upheld the decision of the appeals court and the wishes of the estranged family rather that give the deceased his final request in Valino’s favor.