On January 10, 2012, respondent Marelyn Tanedo Manalo (Manalo) filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court for the cancellation of entry of marriage in the Civil Registry of San Juan, Metro Manila, by virtue of a judgment of divorce rendered by a Japanese court. The Philippine court ruled that the petition could not be granted because under Philippine civil law, Filipinos married to non-Filipinos cannot file a petition for divorce in court because they have not right to divorce.
The Supreme Court, on appeal from a decision of the Court of Appeals, reversed the decision of the lower court and ruled that the law cannot be interpreted in ways that discriminate against Filipinos.
“To reiterate, the purpose of Paragraph 2 of Article 26 is to avoid the absurd situation where the Filipino spouse remains married to the alien spouse who, after a foreign divorce decree that is effective in the country where it was rendered, is no longer married to the Filipino spouse. The provision is a corrective measure to address an anomaly where the Filipino spouse is tied to the marriage while the foreign spouse is free to marry under the laws of his or her country. 42 Whether the Filipino spouse initiated the foreign divorce proceeding or not, a favorable decree dissolving the marriage bond and capacitating his or her alien spouse to remarry will have the same result: the Filipino spouse will effectively be without a husband or wife. A Filipino who initiated a foreign divorce proceeding is in the same place and in like circumstance as a Filipino who is at the receiving end of an alien initiated proceeding. Therefore, the subject provision should not make a distinction. In both instance, it is extended as a means to recognize the residual effect of the foreign divorce decree on Filipinos whose marital ties to their alien spouses are severed by operation of the latter's national law.”
The declared State policy that marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State, should not be read in total isolation but must be harmonized with other constitutional provisions. Aside from strengthening the solidarity of the Filipino family, the State is equally mandated to actively promote its total development. 79 It is also obligated to defend, among others, the right of children to special protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to their development. 80 To our mind, the State cannot effectively enforce these obligations if we limit the application of Paragraph 2 of Article 26 only to those foreign divorce initiated by the alien spouse. It is not amiss to point that the women and children are almost always the helpless victims of all forms of domestic abuse and violence.
Moreover, in protecting and strengthening the Filipino family as a basic autonomous social institution, the Court must not lose sight of the constitutional mandate to value the dignity of every human person, guarantee full respect for human rights, and ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men.