Entrusting child to grandmother is not abandonment

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Parental authority and responsibility are inalienable and may not be transferred or renounced except in cases authorized by law. When a parent entrusts the custody of a minor to another, what is given is merely temporary custody. It does not amount to a renunciation of parental authority.

The couple got married in 1984 and were blessed with two daughters. The couple and their younger daughter stayed with the husband’s mother in the latter’s house in Manila, while the elder daughter was entrusted to the care and custody of the wife’s mother in Pampanga.

When her husband died in 1990, the now widowed wife wanted to bring their younger daughter with her to Pampanga, but her mother-in-law persuaded her to leave the child in Manila as compensation for the loss of her son.

Subsequently, the widowed wife met a Japanese-American orthodontist who lived in the US. Their acquaintance blossomed into a meaningful relationship and two years later, they decided to get married. The newly married wife migrated to San Francisco, California, to join her new husband.

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In 1993, she returned to the Philippines to reunite with her daughters and bring them with her to the US. Her new husband was willing to adopt them as his own and provide for their support and education. However, her mother-in-law refused to return her younger daughter by claiming that the child was entrusted to her when she was only ten days old. Further, her mother-in-law accused her of abandoning her daughter.

Because her demands for the return of her child remained unheeded, the widowed wife was forced to file an action before the courts to recover her minor daughter. Both the Regional Trial Court and Court of Appeals ruled in her favor.

On appeal before the Supreme Court (SC), her mother-in-law alleged that there was no compelling reason to take her granddaughter away from her. Having raised twelve (12) children of her own, she deserved to have custody over the child and was financially capable of doing so. She maintained a store which earned P500.00 a day, received P900.00 pension for the death of her husband, and rented out rooms in her house which earned her P6,000.00 a month.

Her mother-in-law reiterated her accusation that she had abandoned her daughter. During the time her granddaughter stayed with her, the wife of her late son only saw her daughter in three instances, never visiting on important occasions nor giving gifts.

The SC affirmed the ruling of the lower courts. Despite the mother-in-law’s genuine desire to remain with and care for the child, the child’s welfare is always the paramount consideration when it comes to questions concerning her care and custody. Petitioner wife and her new husband have a home of their own, three cars, and a lucrative professional practice in the US. They are more capable of providing a bright future for the child, as compared to the mother-in-law who has a house full of room-renters and other family members.

The High Court further ruled that the widowed mother did not abandon her younger daughter –

The right of parents to the custody of their minor children is one of the natural incidents to parenthood . . . [it]may not be transferred or renounced except . . . only in cases of adoption, guardianship and surrender to a children’s home or an orphan institution.

When the widowed wife entrusted the custody of her minor child to her mother-in-law, what she gave was merely temporary custody, which did not constitute abandonment of her parental authority (Sagala-Eslao v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 116773, 16 January 1997, J. Torres, Jr.).

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