EXPLAINER: Legitimate children can use their mom’s surname — SC
MANILA, Philippines — Legitimate children are now allowed to use the surname of their mother as their surname, according to a Supreme Court (SC) ruling.
The 15-page decision released on Wednesday was penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. It reversed the previous ruling of the Zamboanga City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 12 and the Court of Appeals (CA) denying the plea of Anacleto B. Alanis III to change his surname to Ballaho.
According to the petitioner, he has been using the surname Ballaho – his mother’s surname who he said had raised him and his siblings as a solo parent. However, previous rulings in 2018 and 2014 turned down his request, citing Article 364 of the Republic Act No. 386 known as An Act to ordain and institute the Civil Code of the Philippines.
Article 364 of the Civil Code
The trial court’s previous decision was based on Article 174 of the Family Code, which states:
“ARTICLE 174. Legitimate children shall have the right: (1) To bear the surnames of the father and the mother, in conformity with the provisions of the Civil Code on Surnames[.]”
This applies the Article 364 of the Civil Code, which stated that “Legitimate and legitimated children shall principally use the surname of the father.”
But, the High Court argued that the word “principally” in the provision does not mean “exclusively.”
“The Regional Trial Court’s application of Article 364 of the Civil Code is incorrect. Indeed, the provision states that legitimate children shall “principally” use the surname of the father, but “principally” does not mean “exclusively”,” the ruling read.
“This gives ample room to incorporate into Article 364 the State policy of ensuring the fundamental equality of women and men before the law, and no discernible reason to ignore it,” it added.
Grounds for changing names in the PH
As enunciated in the case of Republic v. Hernandez, there are instances recognized under jurisprudence as sufficient to warrant a change of name, including:
- “When the name is ridiculous, tainted with dishonor, or is extremely difficult to write or pronounce;”
- “When the request for change is a consequence of a change of status, such as when a natural child is acknowledged or legitimated;”
- “When the change is necessary to avoid confusion;”
- “When one has continuously used and been known since childhood by a Filipino name and was unaware of alien parentage;”
- “When the change is based on a sincere desire to adopt a Filipino name to erase signs of former alienage, all in good faith and without prejudice to anybody;” and
- “When the surname causes embarrassment and there is no showing that the desired change of name was for a fraudulent purpose or that the change of name would prejudice public interest.”
Ballaho, in his petition, also appealed to have his given name changed from Anacleto to Abduhalmid. The SC said the arguments were well-taken, explaining that the petitioner has been using the said name in all of his records and transactions. These include his scholastic records, employment records, and licenses.
“That confusion could arise is evident,” the ruling stated.
The SC also found the trial court’s conclusion that the change of name “could trigger much deeper inquiries regarding [his] parentage and/or paternity” as “unduly restrictive and highly speculative.”
The decision noted that the trial court also erred when it held that legitimate children cannot use their mother’s surname because it “treated the surnames of petitioner’s mother and father unequally.”
“Whether people inquire deeper into petitioner’s parentage or paternity because of a name is inconsequential here, and seems to be more a matter of intrigue and gossip than an issue for courts to consider,” the SC said in the ruling.
“Regardless of which name petitioner uses, his father’s identity still appears in his birth certificate, where it will always be written, and which can be referred to in cases where paternity is relevant.”
It also said that the trial court also failed to consider the spirit and mandate of the Convention, the Constitution, and Republic Act No. 7192 in its reasoning. Both of those require the State to “take the appropriate measures to ensure the fundamental equality of women and men before the law.”
The SC emphasized how the previous ruling has further “encoded” patriarchy in the country’s system.
“Patriarchy becomes encoded in our culture when it is normalized. The more it pervades our culture, the more its chances to infect this and future generations,” the decision read.
“The trial court’s reasoning further encoded patriarchy into our system. If a surname is significant for identifying a person’s ancestry, interpreting the laws to mean that a marital child’s surname must identify only the paternal line renders the mother and her family invisible,” the SC continued.
“This, in turn, entrenches the patriarchy and with it, antiquated gender roles: the father, as dominant, in public; and the mother, as a supporter, in private,” it concluded.