“Ako Legal Wife” Part 2

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Why Should the SSS Determine the Validity of Marriages?

 Taking off from last week’s column that gave the scenario of the Social Security System seemingly arrogating upon itself the authority to pass upon the legality of one’s marriage, we have to once more look into the wordings of the SS Act of 1997 when it defined “dependents” in paragraph (e) of Section 8:

  1. The legal spouse entitled by law to receive support from the member; x x x

This provision gives us two obvious requirements for a wife or husband to be considered as an SSS beneficiary of a deceased member—first, he/she must be legally married and secondly, that he/she must be a “dependent” spouse. As I have overemphasized so many times, the term “legal” in the quoted provision is not limited to one having a marriage contract as proof of marriage with the member, such marriage should be valid and existing.

Under the SS Act of 1997 or RA 8282, the Social Security Commission (SSC) has the authority to review the denials made by the SSS on applications for benefits submitted by claimants. The beneficiaries can go up to the SSC through a verified petition to question or assail any and all actions of the SSS (par. 7, Section 4, RA 8282). The procedure and rules before the SSC should be taken as a separate topic as it would require much space and discussion.

Meanwhile, let’s look at how the Supreme Court supported the SSS and the SSC in their stand that the SSS should determine the validity of the member and his/her beneficiary’s marriage before granting any benefits. It can be recalled that in the case of SSS vs. Azote, the part I of this column, the CA reversed and set aside the resolution and the order of the SSC when it held that the SSC could not make a determination of the validity or invalidity of the marriage of claimant Edna to deceased member Edgardo considering that no contest came from either Rosemarie or Elmer, the first family of Edgardo and also his supposed beneficiaries. When this reached the Supreme Court, however, the High Court was consistent in its determination, it cited a previous case where it held: “although the SSS has no power to declare nullity of marriage, it is the System’s duty to make sure that the death benefits should be given to the rightful beneficiaries”. (SSC vs Favila, GR 170195, 28 Mar 2011, 646 SCRA, 462).

This precedent supports all other decisions of the Supreme Court that the SSS can pass upon the validity of the marriage between the member and his/her beneficiary, only for purposes of determining the rightful beneficiary. Thus, my friendly reminder to our members and their beneficiaries, never underestimate the requisites of a valid marriage, especially for those who wish to legitimize their relationship after a decree of nullity, annulment or the death of the spouse of a previous marriage.

 Articles 2 and 3 of the Family Code (FC) provide for the essential requisites of marriage which include:

  1. Legal capacity of the contracting parties who must be a male and a female; and
  1. Consent freely given in the presence of the solemnizing officer.

 The formal requisites of marriage, on the other hand, are:

  1. Authority of the solemnizing officer;
  2. A valid marriage license except in cases of spouses who cohabited for at least five years (Art. 34 FC) without legal impediment; marriages in articulo mortis (Art. 27 FC); or when there are no means of transportation (Art. 28); or among Muslims and members of ethnic communities (Art. 33); and
  3. A marriage ceremony which takes place with the appearance of the contracting parties before the solemnizing officer and their personal declaration that they take each other as husband and wife in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age.

Note that the absence of any of these formal and essential requisites of marriage makes the marriage null and void ab initio (Art. 35 FC).

Again, I have to overemphasize on the marriage license exemption which leaves many beneficiaries all the more heart broken. For those who execute affidavits of cohabitation, this only applies to those who lived together as husband and wife without legal impediment for the entire five years. Quite a number of beneficiaries end up hating the SSS for making this formal requisite a basis for the denial of claims. We understand that indeed the couple entered into marriage but the ceremony alone is not sufficient. The husband and wife must read their own affidavit after executing and before signing it, as it states as a mandatory statement that “they lived as husband and wife for at least five years and without any legal impediment to marry each other”. Art. 34 further provides for the solemnizing officer to state under oath that he ascertained the qualifications of the contracting parties and found no legal impediment to the marriage.

Our SSS processors are very keen on the requirements of a valid marriage because they have been trained to scrutinize applications. If you notice any delay in the processing, the application must have been referred for investigation because the denial cannot come from thin air.

Thus, if the wife of a previous marriage died say, January this year, the husband and his common law wife of the second relationship who cohabited even for twenty five (25) years cannot get married this August without first applying for a marriage license. The law is clear, they must have no legal impediment for the whole five (5) years they were together. From the given example, the legal impediment was only lifted January of this year, thus, the partners should reckon their five (5) years of cohabitation from the death of the spouse of the previous marriage, not from the first time they lived together as husband and wife, because legally speaking they cannot qualify as husband and wife.

A real life story on this five year cohabitation requirement involves Teodulfa, Pepito and Norma. Pepito shot his first wife, Teodulfa resulting to her death. The Supreme Court did not narrate why Pepito was not held liable, however, from the facts presented, Pepito married Norma 20 months after Teodulfa’s death. They did not procure a marriage license, instead, they executed an affidavit that they lived as husband and wife for five (5) years, it appearing that Pepito and Teodulfa were already separated when the former started cohabiting with Norma. Thereafter, Pepito died in a car accident. Aware of their successional rights, Pepito’s children with Teodulfa filed a petition to declare the marriage between Pepito and Norma as null and void, anchored on the marrige license requirement, asserting that their cohabitation is not that cohabitation contemplated by law. The Supreme Court held: “The subsistence of the marriage even where there was actual severance of the filial companionship between the spouses cannot make any cohabitation by either spouse with any third party as being one as “husband and wife”. (Engrace Nial vs. Norma Bayadog, G.R. No. 133778, March 14, 2000)

Taking no shortcuts is therefore most prudent if one aims to legitimize a long time relationship. The cliché on marriage being a mere piece of paper is not true. It is more than a piece of paper especially for SSS beneficiaries, for one has to prove a valid and subsisting marriage to be entitled to SSS proceeds.

Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. (Colossians 3:19) Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)

 Next Week: Non-Complying and Delinquent Employers

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