Rights of illegitimate children

The shocking murder of Ramgen Bautista, allegedly masterminded by his brother RJ and sister Ramona, has unfolded conflicts and rivalries among the many children of former Sen. Ramon Revilla Sr. (Jose Acuña Bautista in real life).

Use of surname. In an interview, the former matinee idol admitted siring “around 80” children with about 16 women. The most publicly known of these women is Genelyn Magsaysay, herself a daughter born out of wedlock of another former senator, Genaro Magsaysay. The police theorize that the alleged unequal distribution of the allowances given by the ailing senator was the motive for the murder. Text messages retrieved from the cell phone of Ramgen reveal money rifts among the siblings.

To begin with, I think there are really no illegitimate children. There are only illegitimate fathers and mothers, who beget offsprings outside a valid marriage. I say this because it is quite unfair to tarnish children who had really no fault in their conception and birth. However, our laws – principally the Civil Code and the Family Code – label children conceived and born out of wedlock as “illegitimate.” So, to avoid confusion, this column, in discussing their rights, will abide by such nomenclature.

The Civil Code and the Family Code, which both regulate filial relationships, provide that illegitimate children “shall use the surname …  of their mother.” But Revilla Sr. himself authored a law in 2004 (Republic Act 9255, otherwise known as the “Revilla Law”) that amended these two codes and allowed illegitimate children to use the surname of their father, “if their filiation has been expressly recognized by the father through the record of birth appearing in the civil register, or when an admission in a public document or private handwritten instrument is made by the father.”

Simply stated, such express (not implied) recognition may be found in the original birth certificate signed by the father, or in a notarized document, or private written instrument executed by the father. Absent such express acknowledgment, an illegitimate child can use only the surname of the mother.

Extent of support. Obviously, the children of Genelyn have been expressly recognized since they freely use both the real-life surname “Bautista,” and the reel-moniker “Revilla” of their father. Once properly signed, the express recognition grants to illegitimate issues not only surname rights but also monetary benefits, like support and succession (or inheritance) from the father.

There have been varying media reports on the amount of support given by Revilla Sr. to Genelyn’s children – from P1 million to P150,000 a month – which was apparently apportioned by the deceased Ramgen among his siblings. Support, according to the Family Code, “comprises everything indispensable for sustenance, dwelling, clothing, medical attendance, education and transportation, in keeping with the financial capacity of the family.” “Education” can extend beyond the age of majority.

The amount of support “shall be in proportion to the resources or means of the giver and to the necessities of the recipient.” It may vary proportionately from time to time according to the reduction or increase of the financial capability of the obligor and the needs of the obligee.

It is not just the parents who are obliged to give support. “Brothers and sisters not legitimately related, whether of the full or half blood, are likewise bound to support each other,” but support may be denied to illegitimate siblings “if the need is due to a cause imputable to the claimant’s fault or negligence.” Under the Family Code, the many Revilla children, whether legitimate or not, may owe support to each other.

Succession or inheritance. By succession, the property, rights and obligations (to the extent of the value of the inheritance) of a person are transmitted to the heirs (and others called devisees or legatees) upon his or her death, either by a will or by operation of law, or partly by will and partly by operation of law.

Decedents may dispose by means of a will only such portions of their property that are not reserved by law for the compulsory heirs. In other words, a testator cannot, as a rule, disinherit compulsory heirs. Once duly acknowledged, illegitimate children are entitled to inherit from their father. They are entitled to what the law refers to as “legitime,” which is that part of the testator’s estate that cannot be freely given away because the law reserves it for the compulsory heirs. While recognized illegitimate children are compulsory heirs, their legitime, according to the Revilla Law, is equivalent only to one-half of the legitime of legitimate children.

Legally “adopted” and “legitimated” children are treated better than illegitimate children because the former enjoy the same rights as legitimate ones. Children – conceived and born of parents who at the time of the conception of the former were not disqualified by any impediment to marry each other – may be legitimated by the marriage of their parents after their birth. For example, if Genelyn’s children were conceived and born when Ramon Revilla Sr. was not legally married to anyone and not otherwise disqualified to marry Genelyn (who was single), they could become legitimated children if Ramon Sr. and Genelyn would marry now. But if Revilla Sr. had an existing marriage at the time of their conception, Genelyn’s children cannot be legitimated.

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