By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
Love is not at the mercy of Time, though physical beauty
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love does not alter with his brief hours and weeks,
But, rather, it endures until the last days of life.
—Sonnet 116, Shakespeare
Love: this is the theme of romanticists like William Shakespeare whose sonnets have inspired a thousand movies, adopting plots about lies, betrayal and even murder which engulf a complicated love story.
Yet true love can be elusive; and it is worse when love abandons a married couple.
And thus it prompts the question: when love ebbs, what happens to the marriage that it leaves behind?
Given that the Philippines still adheres to a “no-divorce policy”, the only way to crawl out of a failed marriage is through a petition for nullity of marriage under Article 36 of the Family Code that envisages the affliction of psychological incapacity by either or both spouses.
For a period that ran for twenty (24) years starting from 1997 up to 2021, the controlling doctrine was the inflexible Molina guidelines that served as basis for Family courts to deny thousands of petitions for nullity of marriage predicated on psychological incapacity.
Fundamentally, the Molina guidelines required exacting standards such as: (1) a medical explanation of the root cause of the psychological incapacity; (2) proven to exist at the time of the celebration of the marriage; and, (3) must be so grave and incurable and proven by clear and convincing evidence.
But in Tan-Andal v. Andal (May 11, 2021), an en banc ruling, the Supreme Court took pains in explaining the concept of psychological incapacity in light of modern psychology and the realities of the times. Therein, it was observed that the Molina guidelines has proven to be, in every manner, “restrictive, rigid, and intrusive of our rights to liberty, autonomy, and human dignity”.
Further affirming the judicial policy to remove the straitjacket that the Molina guidelines has imposed for more than two (2) decades, the more recent ruling in Raphy Valdez De Silva v. Donald De Silva and Republic of the Philippines, G.R. No. 247985. October 13, 2021 [Date Uploaded on SC website: 03/04/2022]), enunciated the reminder for Family courts to treat each case separately, liberate their rulings from the exacting Molina guidelines, and by further reckoning that, “deviant behavior, moral insanity and sociopathic personality anomaly” erode the very essence of marriage, and thus it would be unwise for courts to force a married couple to stick to the marriage under such unbearable circumstances, to wit:
“Predictably, notwithstanding the mere intention to guide the Bench and the Bar, it appears that the jurisprudentially developed parameters in Santos, and later Molina, have somehow allowed couples to unduly remain in loveless, permanent relationships, which undeniably serve to further debase and adulterate the very institution of marriage. Regrettably, instead of serving as guidelines, they have been applied almost rigidly and mechanically. Such unintended consequences of Molina were further discussed in Ngo Te v. Yu-Te, to wit:
The unintended consequences of Molina, however, has taken its toll on people who have to live with deviant behavior, moral insanity and sociopathic personality anomaly, which, like termites, consume little by little the very foundation of their families, our basic social institutions. Far from what was intended by the Court, Molina has become a straitjacket, forcing all sizes to fit into and be bound by it. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Court, in conveniently applying Molina, has allowed diagnosed sociopaths, schizophrenics, nymphomaniacs, narcissists and the like, to continuously debase and pervert the sanctity of marriage. Ironically, the Roman Rota has annulled marriages on account of the personality disorders of the said individuals”.
Making a further observation, the Supreme Court in Raphy Valdez De Silva v. Donald De Silva and Republic of the Philippines, rued that the Molina guidelines may have been an overreaction of sorts to the unfounded criticism that Article 36 (psychological incapacity) is really a divorce law masquerading as a petition for nullity of marriage. Thus:
“In an attempt to close the floodgates to avoid further misinterpretation, the Court, in the most recent case of Tan-Andal v. Andal, has finally taken pains to restate the prevailing understanding of the doctrine, which has proven to be, in every manner, “restrictive, rigid, and intrusive of our rights to liberty, autonomy, and human dignity.” After all, as iterated in Kalaw v. Fernandez, the judicial understanding of psychological incapacity must be continuously informed by evolving standards, taking into account the particulars of each case, by current trends in psychological and even canonical thought, and by experience”.
Too, in Raphy Valdez De Silva, it was held that the “personal examination of the allegedly psychologically incapacitated spouse is not required for a declaration of nullity of marriage due to psychological incapacity”. Thus, “While it may be true that expert opinion is no longer required, it can still be considered; thus, the CA erred in discounting the expert opinion of the psychiatrist for being “unscientific and unreliable”. Facts reveal that the mental evaluation of Mario was not based on collateral information, as the psychiatrist based her diagnosis on a personal history handwritten by Mario himself. This, aside from interviews from Rosanna, Ma. Samantha, and Jocelyn Genevieve, Rosanna’s sister, is sufficient to come up with a reliable diagnosis. After all, the Court said in Marcos v. Marcos, “personal examination of the allegedly psychologically incapacitated spouse is not required for a declaration of nullity of marriage due to psychological incapacity”.
Indeed, “It is accepted practice in psychiatry to base a person’s psychiatric history on collateral information, or information from sources aside from the person evaluated”. Thus, “courts are once again reminded to decide each case on the totality of evidence, which must still be sufficient to prove that the incapacity was grave, incurable, and existing prior to the time of the marriage. Accordingly, every circumstance that may have some bearing on the degree, extent, and condition of that incapacity must be evaluated, so that “no precipitate and indiscriminate nullity is peremptorily decreed”. After all, the adherence to the totality of evidence rule is consonant to practical realities. This Court is not blind to the near impossibility of compelling the supposedly incapacitated spouse to undergo psychological evaluations for purposes of rendering the marriage void. As already pointed out in Tan Andal: “while ideally, the person to be diagnosed should be personally interviewed, it is accepted practice in psychiatry to base a person’s psychiatric history on collateral information, or information from sources aside from the person evaluated. This is usually done if the patient is not available, incapable, or otherwise refuses to cooperate, as in this case”.
Finally, it was held that it would be pointless for the courts to force one to stay in a marriage where the other’s psyche is characterized by “untrustworthiness, irresponsibility, aggressiveness, lack of compassion and remorse” for these are tell-tale signs of psychological incapacity. Still in Raphy Valdez De Silva, it was ruled that “Data gathered from the testimonies of petitioner, her mother Rosalina, expert witness Dr. Tayag, and even respondent himself, reveals that the latter developed traits such as untrustworthiness, irresponsibility, aggressiveness, lack of compassion and remorse antedating the marriage. Dr. Tayag recounts “having no good example to influence Donald in a healthy functioning (sic) and straighten his maladaptive manner of going about his expected tasks and roles, he had persisted to be reckless, immature, rebellious, and insensitive. Since he was a child, and then became an adult, respondent failed to change and his irresponsible ways have become more prominent when he reached the latter stage of his development. With this, his condition is seen to be severe, grave and incurable”.
It may be true that marriage is considered as the “foundation of the family and an inviolable social institution whose nature, consequences, and incidents are governed by law and not subject to stipulation of the parties” pursuant to Article 1 of the Family Code; however, it is equally true that “In dissolving marital bonds on account of either party’s psychological incapacity, the Court is not demolishing the foundation of families, but it is actually protecting the sanctity of marriage, because it refuses to allow a person afflicted with a psychological disorder, who cannot comply with or assume the essential marital obligations, from remaining in that sacred bond” (Ngo-Te v. Yu-Te, 598 Phil. 666 ).
(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates- a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).