The wife of my son left their son to me when he was still six months old. My son died in a car accident, and so his wife left, bringing their then seven-year-old daughter with her to study abroad. In the interim, however, while her son had not yet turned two, she remarried. She never went home to get her son. It was only in four occasions when she came for a short vacation, but she never got him. She never even sent anything during the child’s birthday other than when he turned one. She handed him some toys and a picture but that was before he turned two. Now that he is five years old, she is getting him for adoption of her new spouse. I am of the belief that the child was already abandoned by his mother. I am his grandmother, the mother of his father, and I know, having cared for him for so long that I am able to be the child’s custodian. I love the child very much, as much as my own son. Will the court allow me to seek his custody?
“Children begin by loving their parents. After a time, they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them. Indeed, parenthood is a riddle of no mean proportions except for its mission. Thus, a mother’s concern for her child’s custody is undying — such is a mother’s love.” Teresita Sagala-Eslao v Maria Paz Cordero-Ouye (G.R. No. 116773, 16 January 1997)
We empathize with your longing and sacrifices as a mother. Nevertheless, the ruling on Teresita Sagala-Eslao vs Maria Paz Cordero-Ouye, penned by former Associate Justice Justo Torres Jr. answers your query:
“[Parental authority] is a mass of rights and obligations which the law grants to parents for the purpose of the children’s physical preservation and development, as well as the cultivation of their intellect and the education of their heart and senses. As regards parental authority, ‘there is no power, but a task; no complex of rights, but a sum of duties; no sovereignty but a sacred trust for the welfare of the minor.’
Parental authority and responsibility are inalienable and may not be transferred or renounced except in cases authorized by law. The right attached to parental authority, being purely personal, the law allows a waiver of parental authority only in cases of adoption, guardianship and surrender to a children’s home or an orphan institution. When a parent entrusts the custody of a minor to another, such as a friend or godfather, even in a document, what is given is merely temporary custody and it does not constitute a renunciation of parental authority. Even if a definite renunciation is manifest, the law still disallows the same. The father and mother, being the natural guardians of unemancipated children, are duty-bound and entitled to keep them in their custody and company” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted].
Hence, the act of your daughter-in-law in simply entrusting her son to you, without fully abandoning her responsibilities, is not perceived by law as a relinquishment of her parental authority and right over the child.
While you may assert that she was not able to even remember the child’s special days, it is important that other than this, you should be able to prove in court that there exists compelling reasons to deprive the parent of her natural right over her offspring. Thus, in the same case it was emphasized:
“[I]n the instant petition, when private respondent entrusted the custody of her minor child to the petitioner, what she gave to the latter was merely temporary custody and it did not constitute abandonment or renunciation of parental authority. For the right attached to parental authority, being purely personal, the law allows a waiver of parental authority only in cases of adoption, guardianship and surrender to a children’s home or an orphan institution which do not appear in the case at bar.
Of considerable importance is the rule long accepted by the courts that the right of parents to the custody of their minor children is one of the natural rights incident to parenthood, a right supported by law and sound public policy. The right is an inherent one, which is not created by the state or decisions of the courts, but derives from the nature of the parental relationship” [Emphasis supplied, citations omitted].
Evidently, you cannot simply seek the court’s favor in taking the custody and parental authority over your son’s child. In cases such as this, the child’s best interest is always the paramount concern. Despite the unfavorable ruling, however, you can always guide and care for your grandson in the best way you can – as his grandmother – who, after all, is a mother – who has a heart that understands, accepts, forgives, and loves unconditionally.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter. Happy Mother’s Day to you, and to all mothers in the world!
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org