Sunday, October 6, 2013

Case Digest: G.R. No. 132223. June 19, 2001

Bonifacia P. Vancil, petitioner, vs. Helen G. Belmes, respondent

Facts: Petitioner is the mother of Reeder C. Vancil, a Navy serviceman of the United States of America who died in the said country on December 22, 1986. During his lifetime, Reeder had two children named Valerie and Vincent by his common-law wife, Helen G. Belmes. Petitioner commences before the RTC a guardianship proceeding over the persons and properties of minors Valerie, 6 years old and Vincent, 2 years old. She was appointed legal and judicial guardian over the persons and estate of said children. The natural mother of the minors, herein respondent, submitted an opposition to the subject guardianship proceedings asseverating that she had already filed a similar petition for guardianship. The trial court rejected and denied Belmes’ motion to remove and/or to disqualify Bonifacia as guardian.  The subsequent attempt for reconsideration was likewise dismissed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the RTC.

Issue: Who between the mother and grandmother of minor Vincent should be his guardian.

Ruling: Article 211 of the Family Code provides that 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. Indeed, being the natural mother of minor Vincent, respondent has the corresponding natural and legal right to his custody. The ruling in Sagala-Eslao vs. Court of Appeals is reiterated in this case that of considerable importance is the rule long accepted by the courts that ‘the right of parents to the custody of their minor children is one of the natural rights incident to parenthood, a right supported by law and sound public policy.  The right is an inherent one, which is not created by the state or decisions of the courts, but derives from the nature of the parental relationship.

Petitioner’s claim to be the guardian of said minor can only be realized by way of substitute parental authority pursuant to Article 214 of the Family Code which states that in case of death, absence or unsuitability of the parents, substitute parental authority shall be exercised by the surviving grandparent. The ruling in Santos, Sr. vs. Court of Appeals is reiterated herein that the law vests on the father and mother joint parental authority over the persons of their common children.  In case of absence or death of either parent, the parent present shall continue exercising parental authority.  Only in case of the parents’ death, absence or unsuitability may substitute parental authority be exercised by the surviving grandparent.

Hence, actual custody of and exercising parental authority over minor Vincent is vested on the natural mother.

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