June 2, 2023

A timely reminder to those intending to wed: Don’t be absent on your D-day. Ghosting, however, painful to the party who got jilted, is not something for our courts to rule on.
The Supreme Court recently maintained this view, as it dismissed an attempt by a German to hold his former Filipino fiancée legally liable after she backed out of their wedding. “An individual has the autonomy to choose whom to marry or whether to marry at all. They must be free to make that choice without any fear of legal retribution or liability,” the SC Third Division said.
The tribunal granted the petition for certiorari filed by Jhonna Guevarra, who challenged a 2007 Court of Appeals order for her to return the money that her former boyfriend, Jan Banach, had sent her to buy a piece of property supposedly for their conjugal home.
“A mere breach of a promise to marry is not an actionable wrong as long as it is not of such extent as would palpably and unjustifiably contradict good customs,” the Supreme Court ruling said. “For this reason, litigation to the sorrows caused by a broken heart and a broken promise must be discouraged.”
The ruling, promulgated on Nov. 24, 2021 but was made public by the High Tribunal only on July 7, was written by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
Leonen also penned the SC’s landmark May 2021 decision that declared psychological incapacity, one of the most common grounds cited in annulment cases, as “not a medical, but a legal concept.”
In the Guevarra case, the CA’s January 2007 resolution upheld an earlier ruling of a lower court in Cebu that directed Guevarra and her parents to return the P500,000 sent by Banach after she decided to end their relationship and cancel their wedding.
Guevarra challenged separate rulings that found her liable for actual damages and “unjust enrichment.” She argued she called off their wedding after finding out that Banach was still married to his third wife in Germany.
Guevarra also told the court that Banach introduced himself to her and her family using another name – Roger Brawner – and that they discovered his real name much later.
In reversing the CA ruling, the SC agreed with Guevarra that Banach was not entitled to damages under the New Civil Code since he “did not act in good faith.”
As argued by Guevarra, it said, Banach’s money was given to her as a “gift” that she was not bound legally to return.
The SC reiterated that a person’s right to marry is a human right and that the decision to enter the married life “must be made, as much as possible, completely free from external pressures.”
Judicial bodies, it said, should “refrain from meddling in these personal affairs.”
“Courts, through litigation, should not dictate on or even pressure a person into accepting a life of marriage with a person they reject,” the tribunal said.
“The decision on whether to marry is one that should be freely chosen, without the pressures of a possible civil suit should a person realize that their intended partner is not right for them,” the ruling added.
And while we are at it, contrary to the common perception, conversion to Muslim is not immunity from prosecution for bigamy. The real penalty of bigamy is actually having two mothers-in-law. Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) on bigamy provides, “The penalty of prision mayor shall be imposed upon any person who shall contract a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings.”
The Family Code governs the marriage and property relations of spouses, except for Muslim spouses or where only the husband is a Muslim, and the marriage was celebrated in accordance with Muslim laws, whose marriage relations are governed by Presidential Decree 1083 or the “Code of Muslim Personal Laws.”
But where there is a prior and subsisting marriage, it remains well within the ambit of the Civil Code and its counterpart penal provisions in the RPC.
Thus, even if one converted to Islam before or after his marriage with a Muslim woman, the subsequent marriage consummated the crime of bigamy. He cannot successfully invoke the exculpatory clause in Article 180. Thus, it is clear that one needs to have the previous marriage dissolved before he can contract another marriage. He cannot invoke the exculpatory provision of the Muslim Code.
And off we go. After cancelling the July 4 flight to the land of the milk and honey, the whole family will take off tomorrow for a much-needed holiday and be away from it all.

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