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twowives2.jpg (2297 bytes) Making a mess of one’s affair

(Article published in the July 23, 2001 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

Local Lotharios consider themselves smart when they use the same pet name for wife and mistress. Even if they mumble in their sleep "Honey!" or "Darling!" referring to their mistresses in their sleep, their wives, they boast, are not likely to suspect indiscretion since the wives too are addressed by the same name.

It’s an old trick that has remained boringly the same through the years, until a certain Santiago crashed into the scene and raised it to a higher level. He was not content with the wife-mistress situation; he had two wives. He was not content with the use of the same nickname; the two women whom he married were both named Susan.

On 20 June 1969, Santiago married Susan No. 1 with whom he had two children. The marriage was registered in the town of San Juan, Metro Manila, a place famous for its mayor who had casual convictions about the institution of marriage. After about 13 years of marriage to Susan No. 1, he started cohabiting with Susan No. 2. Despite ten years of cohabitation. he and Susan No. 2 begot no children.

In 1988 or around the sixth year of the cohabitation with Susan No. 2, Santiago was bedridden with diabetes complicated by pulmonary tuberculosis. Perhaps wanting to get things right before he met his creator, he married Susan No. 2 on November 10, 1992 and promptly died 13 days later.

Santiago was a government employee, but although Asiong Salonga around that time was already strutting in the silver screen, it is not known whether Santiago looked up to the former President as his role model. What was certain was that in Santiago’s official papers, the name of his wife was written, and correctly so, as "Susan". Until the time of death, his wife was truly Susan, the only question being which one.

The two Susans filed separate claims for monetary benefits and financial assistance pertaining to the deceased Santiago from various government offices. Susan No. 1 was able to collect a total of P146,000 in benefits and assistance from Commutation (obviously of leave credits and not of penalty for wrongdoing), and other agencies such as the National Police Commission and PAG-IBIG.

Susan No. 2, despite having spent for Santiago’s medical and burial expenses, was, however, able to get hold of only P21,000 for burial expenses from the Government Service and Insurance System and Social Security Service. It was not clear whether Santiago was buried twice; what the records indicated was that burial benefits were paid out by both the GSIS and the SSS.

Susan No. 2 understandably wanted to get some, if not all, of what Susan No. 1 got. So she went to court, claiming "at least one-half" of Susan No. 1’s collection of P146,000.00. Susan No. 2 claimed that she was the real No. 1 because Susan No. 1’s marriage to Santiago was, according to her, solemnized without a marriage license, pointing out to the court that the marriage certificate did not bear any marriage license number. Moreover, she submitted a certification from the Office of the Local Civil Registrar of San Juan, Metro Manila, that it had no record of marriage license of Santiago and Susan No. 1.

Obviously, the town named after the last and greatest of the old testament prophets, who lost his head condemning Herod for having his brother’s wife, was not very meticulous about their record of marriages and licenses. Susan No. 1 ignored summons and was accordingly declared in default.

The Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Susan No. 2; so Susan No. 1 went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that the certification from the Office of the Local Civil Registrar was proof that the marriage of Santiago with Susan No. 1 was not covered by a marriage license and therefore the marriage of Santiago and Susan No. 1 was void (Cariņo v. Cariņo, G.R. No. 132529, February 2, 2001)

But, the Supreme Court nevertheless did not give Susan No. 2 what she was asking for. Citing Article 40 of the Family Code, the Supreme Court held that Susan No. 2’s marriage with Santiago was itself void. Article 40 provides that "the 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". Since Susan No.1’s marriage, though void, was not declared by a final judgment to be void, Susan No. 2 could not have validly married Santiago.

The Supreme Court then proceeded to rule on who was entitled to the Santiago’s death benefits.

But that was not the burden of this story. What was relevant was that Santiago married twice- two women of the same name. In the literal end, however, he died single, though not necessarily in blessedness.