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Tonog vs. CA G.R. No. 122906, February 7, 2002

Petitioner contends that she is entitled to the custody of the minor, Gardin Faith, as a matter of law. First, as the mother of Gardin Faith, the law confers parental authority upon her as the mother of the illegitimate minor. Second, Gardin Faith cannot be separated from her since she had not, as of then, attained the age of seven. Employing simple arithmetic however, it appears that Gardin Faith is now twelve years old.

In custody disputes, it is axiomatic that the paramount criterion is the welfare and well-being of the child. In arriving at its decision as to whom custody of the minor should be given, the court must take into account the respective resources and social and moral situations of the contending parents.

In turn, the parents’ right to custody over their children is enshrined in law. Article 220 of the Family Code thus provides that parents and individuals exercising parental authority over their unemancipated children are entitled, among other rights, to keep them in their company. In legal contemplation, the true nature of the parent-child relationship encompasses much more than the implication of ascendancy of one and obedience by the other. We explained this in Santos, Sr. v. Court of Appeals:

The right of custody accorded to parents springs from the exercise of parental authority. Parental authority or patria potestas in Roman Law is the juridical institution whereby parents rightfully assume control and protection of their unemancipated children to the extent required by the latter’s needs. It is a mass of rights and obligations which the law grants to parents for the purpose of the children’s physical preservation and development, as well as the cultivation of their intellect and the education of their heart and senses. As regards parental authority, there is no power, but a task; no complex of rights, but a sum of duties; no sovereignty but a sacred trust for the welfare of the minor.

Parental authority and responsibility are inalienable and may not be transferred or renounced except in cases authorized by law. The right attached to parental authority, being purely personal, the law allows a waiver of parental authority only in cases of adoption, guardianship and surrender to a children’s home or an orphan institution. When a parent entrusts the custody of a minor to another, such as a friend or godfather, even in a document, what is given is merely temporary custody and it does not constitute a renunciation of parental authority. Even if a definite renunciation is manifest, the law still disallows the same.

Statute sets certain rules to assist the court in making an informed decision. Insofar as illegitimate children are concerned, Article 176 of the Family Code provides that illegitimate children shall be under the parental authority of their mother. Likewise, Article 213 of the Family Code provides that [n]o child under seven years of age shall be separated from the mother, unless the court finds compelling reasons to order otherwise. It will be observed that in both provisions, a strong bias is created in favor of the mother. This is specially evident in Article 213 where it may be said that the law presumes that the mother is the best custodian. As explained by the Code Commission:

The general rule is recommended in order to avoid many a tragedy where a mother has seen her baby torn away from her. No man can sound the deep sorrows of a mother who is deprived of her child of tender age. The exception allowed by the rule has to be for compelling reasons for the good of the child; those cases must indeed be rare, if the mother’s heart is not to be unduly hurt. If she has erred, as in cases of adultery, the penalty of imprisonment and the divorce decree (relative divorce) will ordinarily be sufficient punishment for her. Moreover, moral dereliction will not have any effect upon the baby who is as yet unable to understand her situation.

This is not intended, however, to denigrate the important role fathers play in the upbringing of their children. Indeed, we have recognized that both parents complement each other in giving nurture and providing that holistic care which takes into account the physical, emotional, psychological, mental, social and spiritual needs of the child. Neither does the law nor jurisprudence intend to downplay a father’s sense of loss when he is separated from his child:

While the bonds between a mother and her small child are special in nature, either parent, whether father or mother, is bound to suffer agony and pain if deprived of custody. One cannot say that his or her suffering is greater than that of the other parent. It is not so much the suffering, pride, and other feelings of either parent but the welfare of the child which is the paramount consideration.

For these reasons, even a mother may be deprived of the custody of her child who is below seven years of age for compelling reasons. Instances of unsuitability are neglect, abandonment, unemployment and immorality, habitual drunkenness, drug addiction, maltreatment of the child, insanity, and affliction with a communicable illness. If older than seven years of age, a child is allowed to state his preference, but the court is not bound by that choice. The court may exercise its discretion by disregarding the child’s preference should the parent chosen be found to be unfit, in which instance, custody may be given to the other parent, or even to a third person.

In the case at bar, we are being asked to rule on the temporary custody of the minor, Gardin Faith, since it appears that the proceedings for guardianship before the trial court have not been terminated, and no pronouncement has been made as to who should have final custody of the minor. Bearing in mind that the welfare of the said minor as the controlling factor, we find that the appellate court did not err in allowing her father (private respondent herein) to retain in the meantime parental custody over her. Meanwhile, the child should not be wrenched from her familiar surroundings, and thrust into a strange environment away from the people and places to which she had apparently formed an attachment.

Moreover, whether a mother is a fit parent for her child is a question of fact to be properly entertained in the special proceedings before the trial court.

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Executive Order No. 209            
The Family Code of the Philippines

(For a discussion of relevant issues, please surf to the blogs Legal Updates and Salt and Light. You can also download free PDF newsletters on legal issues.)

Title IX: Parental Authority

Chapter 1. General Provisions

Art. 209. Pursuant to the natural right and duty of parents over the person and property of their unemancipated children, parental authority and responsibility shall include the caring for and rearing them for civic consciousness and efficiency and the development of their moral, mental and physical character and well-being. (n)

Art. 210. Parental authority and responsibility may not be renounced or transferred except in the cases authorized by law. (313a)

Art. 211. The father and the mother shall jointly exercise parental authority over the persons of their common children. In case of disagreement, the father's decision shall prevail, unless there is a judicial order to the contrary.

Children shall always observe respect and reverence towards their parents and are obliged to obey them as long as the children are under parental authority. (311a)

Art. 212. In case of absence or death of either parent, the parent present shall continue exercising parental authority. The remarriage of the surviving parent shall not affect the parental authority over the children, unless the court appoints another person to be the guardian of the person or property of the children. (n)

Art. 213. In case of separation of the parents, parental authority shall be exercised by the parent designated by the Court. The Court shall take into account all relevant considerations, especially the choice of the child over seven years of age, unless the parent chosen is unfit. (n)

No child under seven years of age shall be separated from the mother, unless the court finds compelling reasons to order otherwise.

Art. 214. In case of death, absence or unsuitability of the parents, substitute parental authority shall be exercised by the surviving grandparent. In case several survive, the one designated by the court, taking into account the same consideration mentioned in the preceding article, shall exercise the authority. (355a)

Art. 215. No descendant shall be compelled, in a criminal case, to testify against his parents and grandparents, except when such testimony is indispensable in a crime against the descendant or by one parent against the other. (315a)

Chapter 2. Substitute and Special Parental Authority

Art. 216. In default of parents or a judicially appointed guardian, the following person shall exercise substitute parental authority over the child in the order indicated:

(1) The surviving grandparent, as provided in Art. 214;

(2) The oldest brother or sister, over twenty-one years of age, unless unfit or disqualified; and

(3) The child's actual custodian, over twenty-one years of age, unless unfit or disqualified.

Whenever the appointment of a judicial guardian over the property of the child becomes necessary, the same order of preference shall be observed. (349a, 351a, 354a)

Art. 217. In case of foundlings, abandoned, neglected or abused children and other children similarly situated, parental authority shall be entrusted in summary judicial proceedings to heads of children's homes, orphanages and similar institutions duly accredited by the proper government agency. (314a)

Art. 218. The school, its administrators and teachers, or the individual, entity or institution engaged in child care shall have special parental authority and responsibility over the minor child while under their supervision, instruction or custody.

Authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the premises of the school, entity or institution. (349a)

Art. 219. Those given the authority and responsibility under the preceding Article shall be principally and solidarily liable for damages caused by the acts or omissions of the unemancipated minor. The parents, judicial guardians or the persons exercising substitute parental authority over said minor shall be subsidiarily liable.

The respective liabilities of those referred to in the preceding paragraph shall not apply if it is proved that they exercised the proper diligence required under the particular circumstances.

All other cases not covered by this and the preceding articles shall be governed by the provisions of the Civil Code on quasi-delicts. (n)

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Chapter 3. Effect of Parental Authority Upon the Persons of the Children

Art. 220. The parents and those exercising parental authority shall have with the respect to their unemancipated children or wards the following rights and duties:

(1) To keep them in their company, to support, educate and instruct them by right precept and good example, and to provide for their upbringing in keeping with their means;

(2) To give them love and affection, advice and counsel, companionship and understanding;

(3) To provide them with moral and spiritual guidance, inculcate in them honesty, integrity, self-discipline, self-reliance, industry and thrift, stimulate their interest in civic affairs, and inspire in them compliance with the duties of citizenship;

(4) To furnish them with good and wholesome educational materials, supervise their activities, recreation and association with others, protect them from bad company, and prevent them from acquiring habits detrimental to their health, studies and morals;

(5) To represent them in all matters affecting their interests;

(6) To demand from them respect and obedience;

(7) To impose discipline on them as may be required under the circumstances; and

(8) To perform such other duties as are imposed by law upon parents and guardians. (316a)

Art. 221. Parents and other persons exercising parental authority shall be civilly liable for the injuries and damages caused by the acts or omissions of their unemancipated children living in their company and under their parental authority subject to the appropriate defenses provided by law. [2180(2)a and (4)a ]

Art. 222. The courts may appoint a guardian of the child's property or a guardian ad litem when the best interests of the child so requires. (317)

Art. 223. The parents or, in their absence or incapacity, the individual, entity or institution exercising parental authority, may petition the proper court of the place where the child resides, for an order providing for disciplinary measures over the child. The child shall be entitled to the assistance of counsel, either of his choice or appointed by the court, and a summary hearing shall be conducted wherein the petitioner and the child shall be heard.

However, if in the same proceeding the court finds the petitioner at fault, irrespective of the merits of the petition, or when the circumstances so warrant, the court may also order the deprivation or suspension of parental authority or adopt such other measures as it may deem just and proper. (318a)

Art. 224. The measures referred to in the preceding article may include the commitment of the child for not more than thirty days in entities or institutions engaged in child care or in children's homes duly accredited by the proper government agency.

The parent exercising parental authority shall not interfere with the care of the child whenever committed but shall provide for his support. Upon proper petition or at its own instance, the court may terminate the commitment of the child whenever just and proper. (391a)

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Chapter 4. Effect of Parental Authority Upon the Property of the Children

Art. 225. The father and the mother shall jointly exercise legal guardianship over the property of the unemancipated common child without the necessity of a court appointment. In case of disagreement, the father's decision shall prevail, unless there is a judicial order to the contrary.

Where the market value of the property or the annual income of the child exceeds P50,000, the parent concerned shall be required to furnish a bond in such amount as the court may determine, but not less than ten per centum (10%) of the value of the property or annual income, to guarantee the performance of the obligations prescribed for general guardians.

A verified petition for approval of the bond shall be filed in the proper court of the place where the child resides, or, if the child resides in a foreign country, in the proper court of the place where the property or any part thereof is situated.

The petition shall be docketed as a summary special proceeding in which all incidents and issues regarding the performance of the obligations referred to in the second paragraph of this Article shall be heard and resolved.

The ordinary rules on guardianship shall be merely suppletory except when the child is under substitute parental authority, or the guardian is a stranger, or a parent has remarried, in which case the ordinary rules on guardianship shall apply. (320a)

Art. 226. The property of the unemancipated child earned or acquired with his work or industry or by onerous or gratuitous title shall belong to the child in ownership and shall be devoted exclusively to the latter's support and education, unless the title or transfer provides otherwise.

The right of the parents over the fruits and income of the child's property shall be limited primarily to the child's support and secondarily to the collective daily needs of the family. (321a, 323a)

Art. 227. If the parents entrust the management or administration of any of their properties to an unemancipated child, the net proceeds of such property shall belong to the owner. The child shall be given a reasonable monthly allowance in an amount not less than that which the owner would have paid if the administrator were a stranger, unless the owner, grants the entire proceeds to the child. In any case, the proceeds thus given in whole or in part shall not be charged to the child's legitime. (322a)

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Chapter 5. Suspension or Termination of Parental Authority

Art. 228. Parental authority terminates permanently:

(1) Upon the death of the parents;

(2) Upon the death of the child; or

(3) Upon emancipation of the child.
(327a)

Art. 229. Unless subsequently revived by a final judgment, parental authority also terminates:

(1) Upon adoption of the child;

(2) Upon appointment of a general guardian;

(3) Upon judicial declaration of abandonment of the child in a case filed for the purpose;

(4) Upon final judgment of a competent court divesting the party concerned of parental authority; or

(5) Upon judicial declaration of absence or incapacity of the person exercising parental authority. (327a)

Art. 230. Parental authority is suspended upon conviction of the parent or the person exercising the same of a crime which carries with it the penalty of civil interdiction. The authority is automatically reinstated upon service of the penalty or upon pardon or amnesty of the offender. (330a)

Art. 231. The court in an action filed for the purpose or in a related case may also suspend parental authority if the parent or the person exercising the same:

(1) Treats the child with excessive harshness or cruelty;

(2) Gives the child corrupting orders, counsel or example;

(3) Compels the child to beg; or

(4) Subjects the child or allows him to be subjected to acts of lasciviousness.

The grounds enumerated above are deemed to include cases which have resulted from culpable negligence of the parent or the person exercising parental authority.

If the degree of seriousness so warrants, or the welfare of the child so demands, the court shall deprive the guilty party of parental authority or adopt such other measures as may be proper under the circumstances.

The suspension or deprivation may be revoked and the parental authority revived in a case filed for the purpose or in the same proceeding if the court finds that the cause therefor has ceased and will not be repeated. (33a)

Art. 232. If the person exercising parental authority has subjected the child or allowed him to be subjected to sexual abuse, such person shall be permanently deprived by the court of such authority. (n)

Art. 233. The person exercising substitute parental authority shall have the same authority over the person of the child as the parents.

In no case shall the school administrator, teacher or individual engaged in child care exercising special parental authority inflict corporal punishment upon the child. (n)

 

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