2 judges discover their names used in fake annulment papers
Some couples are ready to pay P200,000 to scrap their marriage.
That’s the price one Cebu judge learned is being offered to have a bogus court order of annulment prepared. His name appeared on one of them.
“That’s really a racket,” said Regional Trial Court Judge Olegario Sarmiento, who handles family court cases.
“If it’s that easy to come up with fake documents, our system will be compromised.”
He and another Cebu judge recently found out their signatures and names were used in fake annulment papers in at least two cases.
The issue was brought to the attention of the Local Civil Registrar (LCR) in Cebu City and the National Bureau of Investigation in Central Visayas (NBI-7).
Cebu City LCR Evangeline Abatayo requested all 22 RTC judges in Cebu to submit samples of their signatures so the office can verify whether court decisions submitted to their office are genuine.
“In view of the discovery of faked annulment decisions submitted with the Local Civil Registrar, we are therefore raising security (measures) in our screening process… ,” Abatayo said in a letter to Judge Meinrado Paredes, former RTC executive judge.
Paredes, who stepped down from the post last month, said the LCR’s request will be handled by Acting RTC Executive Judge Sylvestre Maamo.
The Local Civil Registrar issues government certifications of birth, death and marriage.
The LCR also wants to communicate quickly with judges and clerks of court whenever the local civil registrar needs to authenticate a decision.
Judge Sarmiento, one of the “victims” of bogus paperwork, lamented that the control measures were not in place sooner.
“The civil registrar should not issue certifications without verifying with us the court decisions submitted to their office,” Sarmiento told Cebu Daily News.
RTC Judge Ester Veloso’s name was also found to have been used in the irregularity. The NBI-7 is looking into the malpractice.
The controversy was uncovered when the National Statistics Office (NSO) in Manila had doubts about the spelling of Judge Sarmiento’s family name in a document.
The NSO was about to release the marriage contract of a woman when a clerk noticed that the “i” in the judge’s family name was omitted in the “decision.”
“The family name Sarmiento usually has an ‘i’ but the clerk wondered why it was omitted, so a verification was made,” the judge said.
With this discovery, the marriage contract of the woman wasn’t released.
The document was sent to Sarmiento. The judge disowned the signature on it.
His signature appears completely different from the one in the fake court decision.
The docket number of the case for “nullity of marriage” was also erroneous. It wasn’t a case in Sarmiento’s court.
The docket number was traced to RTC Branch 5 of Judge Douglas Marigomen.
Judge Sarmiento told CDN he was dismayed to know that the Local Civil Registrar already authenticated the court decision as well as the Certificate of Finality supposedly issued by his office, which would attest that the ruling could no longer be appealed.
Sarmiento presides over a family court, which is a special venue for cases involving families and children.
He said the four-page ruling clearly didn’t came from him and the name of the lawyer of the woman was “fictitious”.
The woman visited the judge but declined to give details about the so-called lawyer.
Sarmiento said the woman, whose identity he did not reveal, should not have remarried because her existing marriage with her husband was not annulled.
For getting into trouble, “I told her ‘you deserve it it,” the judge recounted to CDN.
The judge said he learned from a lawyer that fake court decisions were being produced for a price of P200,000 or more.
The scheme is being used to “legitimize” second marriages. Some foreigners reportedly have resorted to this to marry Filipino spouses.
“How many faked decision have been faked? That I don’t know,” he said.
Sarmiento said he hopes the NBI-7 will get to the bottom of it.
The judge said the Local Civil Registrar should verify the authenticity of court decisions rather than depend on the face value of signatures on documents submitted to the office.
“Government investigators should take at look at these issues to eradicate (the scheme of proliferating fake decisions), which has become prevalent,” Sarmiento said.
In an interview, LCR’s Abatayo said her office had no knowledge about the problem until Judge Paredes brought up the matter.
Abatayo said the civil registrar’s office does try to contact the court to check the authenticity of documents but sometimes phone calls are left unanswred.
“We have to conduct verifications. However, due to the volume of documents that we attend to, there are times when the decisions are unintentionally not verified,” Abatayo told Cebu Daily News.
The Local Civil Registrar, she said, usually reads court decisions on cases involving nullity of marriage or annulment.
Abatayo said they also consider the Certificate of Finality issued by clerks of court.
If the decision is deemed final and authentic, Abatayo said a contracting party will pay P1,000 as registration fee for the issuance of a Certificate of Registration for the annotation of the marriage certificate.
Abatayo said her office was alarmed by the discovery of the fake court decisions.
RTC Cebu City records show that there were 468 cases involving marriages that fell apart compared to 417 in 2009.
Most of the cases involved nullity of marriage, where the court declares a marriage “null and void from the beginning as if no marriage happened at all.” Only a few of the cases were annulments, which involve marriages that are valid and later dissolved, usually on the grounds of psychological incapacity on the part of one of the spouses.
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