“Not everyone has a ‘happily ever after.’”
Some people, as a consequence of their youth and immaturity, infatuation, or the need to escape family squabbles, prohibition, and poverty, plunge into marriage without thinking of its legal consequences. As we know, not all married couples live happily ever after.
These marriages are sometimes turbulent, unharmonious and physically violent, forcing one or both of them to end it. With these unsettling realities, some rush out of their marriages without having them nullified or annulled, exposing them to criminal charges of bigamy. This is what happened in the 2021 case of Pulido v. People. The records of the case show that on September 5, 1983, then 16-year old Luisito Pulido (Pulido) married his teacher, a 22-year old private complainant Nora S. Arcon (Arcon) in a civil ceremony at the Municipal Hall of Rosario, Cavite (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
The marriage was solemnized by then Mayor Calixto D. Enriquez. The couple lived together and were blessed with a child. They lived together until 2007, when Pulido stopped going home to their conjugal dwelling. When confronted by Arcon, Pulido admitted to having an affair with Rowena Baleda (Baleda). Arcon likewise learned that Pulido and Baleda married on July 31, 1995, as solemnized by Reverend Conrado P. Ramosc(G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
The marriage certificate of Pulido and Baleda indicated Pulido’s civil status as single. Hurt by the betrayal, Arcon charged Pulido and Baleda with bigamy on December 4, 2007. In his defense, Pulido insisted that he could not be held criminally liable for bigamy because both his marriages were null and void. He claimed that his marriage with Arcon in 1983 is null and void for lack of a valid marriage license while his marriage with Baleda is null and void for lack of a marriage ceremony (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
In her defense, Baleda claimed that she only knew of Pulido’s prior marriage with Arcon sometime in April 2007. She alleged that even prior to the filing of the bigamy case, she already filed a Petition to Annul her marriage with Pulido before the RTC of lmus, Cavite (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
Pulido’s first marriage with Arcon and second marriage with Baleda were judicially declared void for lack of a valid marriage license and for being bigamous, respectively. Pulido interposed the defense that the subsequent judicial declaration of nullity of his first marriage should exculpate him from criminal liability for bigamy (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
Who commits bigamy? Any person who contracts 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 commits this crime (Article 349, Revised Penal Code). The rationale for prosecuting an individual who contracted a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved is to preserve and ensure the juridical tie of marriage as established by law (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
For one to be held guilty of bigamy, the prosecution must prove that: (a) the offender has been legally married; (b) the first marriage has not been legally dissolved, or in case his or her spouse is absent, the absent spouse could not yet be presumed dead according to the Civil Code; (c) he or she contracts a second or subsequent marriage; and (d) the second or subsequent marriage has all the essential requisites for validity (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
It is vital in the prosecution for bigamy that the alleged second marriage, having all the essential requirements, would be valid were it not for the subsistence of the first marriage. It is undisputed that Pulido married Arcon on September 5, 1983. Thereafter, he contracted a second marriage with Baleda on July 31, 1995 without having his first marriage legally dissolved. Pulido and Baleda’s marriage had all the essential requisites for its validity had it not been for the existing first marriage (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
In the case of Morigo v. People as cited in Pulido v. People, the Supreme Court held that the marriage of Lucio and Lucia was considered a void and inexistent marriage, meaning there was no marriage to begin with, in view of the absence of an actual marriage ceremony performed by a solemnizing officer between the contracting parties. The Court held that such a declaration of nullity retroacts to the date of the first marriage (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
Hence, for all intents and purposes, from the date of the declaration of the first marriage as void ab initio, it retroacts to the date of the celebration of the first marriage, and the accused is considered to never have been married in the eyes of the law. Consequently, with the declaration of nullity of the first marriage, the first element of bigamy, that is, that the accused must have been legally married, was lacking. Thus, the accused was acquitted based on the subsequent declaration of nullity of the first marriage (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
In the same manner, when the accused contracts a second or subsequent marriage that is void ab initio, he/she cannot be held liable for bigamy as the effect of a void marriage signifies that the accused has not entered into a second or subsequent marriage, being inexistent from the beginning. Thus, the element, ”that he or she contracted a second or subsequent marriage”, is lacking (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
A subsequent judicial declaration of nullity of the second marriage merely confirms its inexistence and shall not render the accused liable for bigamy for entering a void marriage while the first marriage still subsists. Hence, the accused in bigamy may validly raise a void ab initio second or subsequent marriage even without a judicial declaration of nullity (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
An important question that has to be answered is — whether a void ab initio marriage is a valid defense in the prosecution for bigamy even without a judicial declaration of absolute nullity. The Supreme Court said that “when both the prior and subsequent marriages were contracted prior to the effectivity of the Family Code (August 8, 1988), a void ab initio marriage can be raised as a defense in a bigamy case even without a judicial declaration”. Nonetheless, the court recognized that an action for nullity of the second marriage is a prejudicial question to the criminal prosecution for bigamy (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
However, if the first marriage was contracted before the effectivity of the Family Code while the second marriage was celebrated during the effectivity of the latter law, as in the case of Pulido, the Supreme Court recognizes the retroactive application of Article 40, which says that “the absolute nullity of a previous marriage may be invoked for purposes of remarriage on the basis solely of a final judgment declaring such previous marriage void” (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
Jurisprudence states that no judicial decree is necessary in order to establish the nullity of a marriage; the exception is Article 40 of the Family Code, which expressly requires that there must be a judicial declaration of the nullity of a previous marriage, though void. However, such a requirement is merely for purposes of remarriage and does not affect the accused’s right to collaterally attack the validity of the void ab initio marriage in a criminal prosecution for bigamy (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).
The Supreme Court succinctly declared that the parties are no longer required to obtain a judicial declaration of absolute nullity of void ab initio first and subsequent marriages in order to raise these as a defense in a bigamy case. Consequently, a judicial declaration of absolute nullity of the first and/or second marriages obtained by the accused in a separate proceeding, regardless of the time within which they are secured, is a valid defense in the criminal prosecution for bigamy (G.R. No. 220149, July 27, 2021).