“Ako Legal Wife”

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Legal Spouse Presupposes a Valid and Existing Marriage

This was my supposed column for last week, but it had to give way to the 60th Anniversary of the Social Security System.  We hope last week’s topic on our forms and list of benefits gave our readers some idea on how to go about with their membership and took the cue to become SSS members if they haven’t registered yet. If you wish to review “Your SSS Corner”, Baguio Herald Express is reader friendly. You can always like their page on Facebook and browse through past issues, our column included.

Our dear readers might be asking by now, what is this columnist’s fixation about cohabitation, legal spouses and valid marriages?  I have to stress that marital issues are the most common and frequently asked opinion from us. Our encounter with claimants who only discover the numerous marriages entered into by their spouse when they file an SSS claim is no longer surprising to SSS frontliners and processors. We can only commiserate with the wife in mourning who would pain even more upon her grievous finding that she is the second or third wife. We can never get used to becoming shoulders to cry on for our widows as we loathe the sight of women feeling so betrayed after a loss. It is a double whammy. I had to emphasize widows as I have had very few encounters with women who marry twice, and they only happen when both spouses are inpari delicto.

The most number of wives wed by one man recorded by the SSS is five (5), involving a bus conductor. So this week I am citing another actual case which reminds me of the film “Mano Po”, a line popularized by Zsa  Zsa Padilla, thus, my title, emphasizing that one can always claim that she is the legal wife, but the SSS cannot always grant on that basis alone. Here goes:

Member Edgardo married Edna in civil rites on June 19, 1992. Out of their union from 1985 to 1999, they had six (6) children.  Edgardo declared as his beneficiaries on April 27, 1994, said Edna and their three older children, using the SSS E-4 form.  Thereafter, on September 7, 2001, Edgardo added the three other younger children as his beneficiaries, also through the form E-4.   Edgardo died on January 13, 2005.

Edna filed for a Death Claim with SSS, however, upon retrieval of the SSS records of Edgardo, Edna discovered that Edgardo on November 5, 1982, declared a different set of beneficiaries in his form E-4, with one Rosemarie as his wife and a certain Elmer as his dependent who was born on October 9, 1982. Edgardo’s marriage to Rosemarie was registered on July 28, 1982 per NSO records.  Edna’s claim as a surviving spouse was denied as the SSS opined that the first marriage of Edgardo to Rosemarie was neither dissolved nor nullified, thus, the marriage of Edgardo to Edna is null and void. Edna, however, became the legal guardian of her children who are below 21 as they are entitled to pension which would stop however, when they reach the age of 21.

In her petition before the Social Security Commission (SSC), SSC upheld the SSS’ denial of Edna’s claim. During the proceedings, the SSS notified the first wife Rosemarie through a newspaper of general circulation, however, the latter did not answer thus, she was declared in default. The SSC decided that Edna failed to prove that her marriage to Edgardo is valid. The SSC likewise opined that Rosemarie cannot be presumed dead and “death benefits could not be considered properties which may be disposed of in a holographic will”.

Edna appealed before the Court of Appeals where the CA pronounced that the SSC cannot decide on the validity of the marriage between Edgardo and Edna as Rosemarie and Elmer the named dependents in the first E-4, did not contest Edna’s claim. The CA held that the change of beneficiary made by Edgardo is a show of the member’s intention to revoke his earlier E-4 in 1982.

SSS, on appeal to the Supreme Court, got the reversal of the CA ruling as the court of last resort held that: “only the legal spouse of the deceased-member is qualified to be the beneficiary of the latter’s SS benefits.  In this case, there is a concrete proof that Edgardo contracted an earlier marriage with another individual as evidenced by their marriage contract. Edgardo even acknowledged his married status when he filled out the 1982 Form E-4 designating Rosemarie as his spouse.”

According to the Supreme Court, the fact that two E-4 forms exist would show that only one of the spouses therein declared could be the legal spouse. Since the marriage between Edgardo and Rosemarie took place in 1982, statistically, the marriage between Edgardo and Edna which took place in 1992 was contracted during the existence of a first valid marriage. The Supreme Court even added that, not even the non-appearance of Rosemarie to dispute the claims of Edna could legitimize the status of Edna.

The ending of the story is quite obvious, the SSS was upheld in its denial of Edna’s claim because her marriage to Edgardo is not valid. If you can relate to this story, I have one solution to your problem.  You can show the SSS any evidence that the first wife was already dead at the time you contracted the second marriage with the member.  For this means the subsequent marriage was entered into after the termination of the first one. Needless to say, the subsequent marriage should be valid as the spouses should abide by the essential and formal requisites of marriage.

To be continued…

Reference: G.R. No. 209741, April 15, 2015 – SOCIAL SECURITY COMMISSION, vs. EDNA A. AZOTE

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

(Atty. Russel L. Ma-ao is the OIC, Legal Department-Luzon North I of the Social Security system)