Supreme Court allows legitimate child to use mother’s surname

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 25 2021 11:50 PM

MANILA — A legitimate child can now choose to go by the surname of either parent, the Supreme Court ruled, recognizing “the fundamental equality of women and men before the law” and invoking the State's duty to "dismantle" patriarchy. 

In a decision dated November 11, 2020 but released only recently, the Supreme Court Third Division granted Anacleto Ballaho Alanis III’s plea to use his mother’s surname, Ballaho, and change his first name to “Abdulhamid” to avoid confusion.

Ballaho, whose parents separated when he was only 5 years old, had been using “Abdulhamid Ballaho” since childhood. He asked a regional trial court in Zamboanga to legally change his name in his birth certificate. 

In 2008, RTC Zamboanga denied his petition, saying the use of a different name is not a valid ground for change of name. It also ruled that under the Family and Civil codes, legitimate children shall principally use their fathers’ surnames.

After going through a series of procedural missteps, the case reached the Supreme Court, which liberally applied procedural rules to grant Ballaho’s petition.

The Court, speaking through Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, said the trial court was wrong in interpreting Art. 364 of the Civil Code, which states that “legitimate and legitimated children shall principally use the surname of the father,” to mean that only the father’s surname can be used.

“Indeed, the provision states that legitimate children shall ‘principally’ use the surname of the father, but ‘principally’ does not mean ‘exclusively.’ This gives ample room to incorporate into Art. 364 the State policy of ensuring the fundamental equality of women and men before the law, and no discernible reason to give it,” it said.

The Court cited Article II, section 14 of the Constitution on equality of women and men as well as the country’s signing of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1980 and the passage into law of Republic Act No. 7192 or the Women in Development and Nation Building Act to highlight the Philippines’ commitment to ensure gender equality.

“Article II, Section 14 implies the State’s positive duty to actively dismantle the existing patriarchy by addressing the culture that supports it,” it said.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court interpreted Art. 364 of the Civil Code in this manner, citing as basis the 1980 case of Alfon v. Republic. 

But in that case, the high court allowed petitioner to use the surname of her uncle who raised her in order to avoid confusion since she had been using it in school.

The rules on change of names have changed since then but avoiding confusion remains one of the grounds.

The high court used this rule to also allow Ballaho to change his first name to Abdulhamid, the name known to his family and friends and which he had used from grade school until finishing his law degree.

Enumerating some of its previous rulings, the Supreme Court rejected the trial court’s reasoning that changing Ballaho’s name would only create more confusion as it could supposedly trigger inquiries on his parentage and/or paternity.

“This Court fails to see how the change of name would create more confusion. 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,” it said, saying his father’s identity still appears in his birth certificate.

The Supreme Court said the trial court’s reasoning was unduly restrictive, highly speculative and contrary to the spirit and mandate of the Constitution, the Convention and the law previously cited.

“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,” it said.

“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. 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 added.

Associate Justices Ramon Paul Hernando, Edgardo Delos Santos and Ricardo Rosario concurred in the ruling while Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting was on official leave.

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