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Proof of legitimate and illegitimate filiation

Based on data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority last January 2021, more than half of the total registered live births in 2019, or 54.8%, representing 917,242 newborns, were born out of wedlock. The three regions that recorded the highest number of illegitimate children were CALABARZON (16.0%), National Capital Region (15.8%), and Central Luzon (11.3%).

Mothers aged 20-24 years old had the highest number of illegitimate babies in 2019, contributing 315,620, or 34.4% of the total that year. This was followed by mothers aged 25-29 years old, who contributed 227,411, or 24.8% of the total in 2019.

Who are legitimate children? These children are conceived and born during the marriage; are conceived before the marriage but born during the marriage; or are conceived during the marriage but born outside of it. In the latter case, this may happen in any of the following instances: (a) if the pregnant wife was left a widow by a husband who died before the birth of the child; or (b) if the child was conceived during a voidable marriage but born after the marriage was annulled.

The legitimacy of a child may be impugned only if it was physically impossible for the husband to have had sexual intercourse with his wife within the first 120 days of the 300 days which immediately precede the birth of the child because of: (a) the physical incapacity of the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife; (b) the physical separation of the husband and wife which makes sexual intercourse impossible; or (c) serious illness of the husband, which absolutely prevents sexual intercourse (Article 166, Family Code).

On the other hand, children conceived and born outside a valid marriage are illegitimate, unless otherwise provided by the Code (Article 165, Family Code). The following are illegitimate children: (a) born of couples who are not married; (b) born of incestuous marriages; (c) born of bigamous marriages; (d) born of adulterous relations; and (e) born of marriages which are void by reason of public policy under Article 38 of the Family Code.

Examples of illegitimate children born of marriages against public policy are those born between: (a) collateral relatives, whether legitimate or illegitimate, up to the fourth civil degree, e.g., first cousins; (b) parents-in-law and children-in-law; (c) step-parents and step-children; (d) adoptive parents and adopted children; (e) the surviving spouse of the adopter and an adopted child and vice versa; (f) an adopted child and a legitimate child of the adopter; and (g) adopted children of the same adopter, among others (Article 38, Family Code).

Children born of parents below 18 years, whom one or more are below the age of majority, are automatically illegitimate children regardless of marriage status. Even if they were "married," such a marriage is void (Article 35 [1], Family Code). Illegitimate children may establish their illegitimate filiation in the same manner as legitimate children (Article 175, Family Code).

The filiation of legitimate or illegitimate children is established by any of the following: (1) the record of birth appearing in the civil register or a final judgment; or (2) an admission of legitimate filiation by the parent concerned in a signed public document or a private handwritten instrument. In the absence of the said documents, filiation shall be proved by: (1) the open and continuous possession of the status of a legitimate or illegitimate child; or (2) any other means allowed by the Rules of Court and special laws (Article 172 in relation to Article 175, Family Code).

The law itself establishes the status of a child from the moment of his birth. Proof of filiation is necessary only when the legitimacy of the child is being questioned. This rule also applies to illegitimate children. In her Handbook on the Family Code of the Philippines, Alicia Sempio-Diy, a member of the Civil Code and Family Code Committees, discussed that like legitimate children, illegitimate children are already given by the Family Code their status as such from the moment of birth (Hilario v. Miranda, et al., G.R. No. 196499, November 28, 2018).

Therefore, there is no need for an illegitimate child to file an action against his parent for recognition if he has in fact already been recognized by the latter through any of the evidence mentioned in Article 172 of the Family Code. If, however, the status of the illegitimate child is impugned, or he is required by circumstances to establish his illegitimate filiation, then he can do so in the same way and via the same evidence as legitimate children as provided in Article 172 (G.R. No. 196499, November 28, 2018).

Proof of legitimate and illegitimate filiation

The due recognition of an illegitimate child in a record of birth, a will, a statement before a court of record, or in any authentic writing, is, in itself, a consummated act of acknowledgment of the child, and no further court action is required. In fact, any authentic writing is treated not just as grounds for compulsory recognition; it is in itself a voluntary recognition that does not require a separate action for judicial approval (Aguilar v. Siasat, G.R. NO. 200169, January 28, 2015).

Where, instead, a claim for recognition is predicated on other evidence merely tending to prove paternity - other than a record of birth, a will, a statement before a court of record or an authentic writing - judicial action within the applicable statute of limitations is essential in order to establish the child's acknowledgment (Aguilar v. Siasat, G.R. NO. 200169, January 28, 2015).

In the case of Salas v. Matusalem, the mother of Christian Paulo Salas presented the Certificate of Live Birth of the latter in which the name of the petitioner (Salas) appears as his father but is not signed by him. Admittedly, it was only the respondent mother (Matusalem) who filled up the entries and signed the said document, though she claims it was the petitioner who supplied the information she wrote therein (G.R. No. 180284, September 11, 2013).

The Supreme Court held that a certificate of live birth purportedly identifying the putative father is not competent evidence of paternity when there is no showing that the putative father had a hand in the preparation of the certificate. Thus, if the father did not sign the birth certificate, the placing of his name by the mother, doctor, registrar, or other person is incompetent evidence of paternity. Neither can such a birth certificate be taken as recognition in a public instrument; it also has no probative value to establish filiation to the alleged father (Salas v. Matusalem, G.R. No. 180284, September 11, 2013).

As for the Baptismal Certificate of Christian Paulo Salas also indicating petitioner as the father, the Supreme Court ruled that while baptismal certificates may be considered public documents, they can only serve as evidence of the administration of the sacraments on the dates so specified. They are not necessarily competent evidence of the veracity of entries therein with respect to the child's paternity (G.R. No. 180284, September 11, 2013).

The rest of the mother's documentary evidence consists of handwritten notes and letters, hospital bills and photographs taken of the petitioner (Salas) and the respondent (Matusalem) inside their rented apartment unit. Pictures taken of the mother and her child together with the alleged father are inconclusive evidence towards proving paternity (G.R. No. 180284, September 11, 2013).

Handwritten notes of the petitioner and respondent showing their exchange of affectionate words are also not sufficient to establish Christian Paulo's filiation to the petitioner, as they were not signed by the latter and contained no statement that he is the father of said child. Thus, even if these notes were authentic, they do not qualify under other means allowed by the Rules of Court or special laws (G.R. No. 180284, September 11, 2013).

An illegitimate child is now also allowed to establish his claimed filiation by "any other means allowed by the Rules of Court and special laws," such as through a baptismal certificate, a judicial admission, a family Bible in which his name has been entered, common reputation respecting his pedigree, admission by silence, the testimonies of witnesses, and other kinds of proof admissible under Rule 130 of the Rules of Court (G.R. No. 180284, September 11, 2013).

In the recent case of Heirs of Pabillar v. Paller, the Supreme Court declared that a baptismal certificate has evidentiary value to prove filiation only if considered alongside other evidence of filiation. As such, the courts must peruse other pieces of evidence instead of relying only on a canonical record (G.R. No. 231459, January 21, 2019).

The action to claim legitimacy of the child may be filed during the child's lifetime and even after the death of the parents (Article 173, Family Code). The same period will be observed if the claim of illegitimate filiation is based on the record of birth, final judgment, or admission by the parent of the child's filiation in a public document or a private handwritten instrument signed by the parent concerned (Article 172 in relation to 175, Family Code).

However, if the action is based on the open continuous possession of the illegitimate status or the other means allowed by the Rules of Court and special laws, it must be filed during the lifetime of the alleged parent (Article 175, Family Code). These periods must be observed in order not to bar or prevent any action to establish filiation.

Establishing filial relationship is as important as knowing the pedigree of a person, because a particular familial line cannot be established without identifying the progeny. The public's perception of illegitimate children should not have an impact on the status of an illegitimate child since the predicament was created by the parents and not him.