Technical rules guide recognition of foreign judgment

Remember my article published last 22 April 2022. It is about recognition of foreign judgments.

To refresh your memory, I discussed the necessity of having a divorce decree obtained abroad recognized here in order to capacitate the Filipino spouse to marry again. To reiterate, divorces between a foreigner and a Filipino spouse secured abroad can only have efficacy in the Philippines once a petition for judicial recognition of said foreign judgment is granted by our courts. Without a judicial sanction, the Filipino spouse is exposed to liability as there is no record of the divorce in the Philippines. Technically, the foreign spouse, if bitter about the break up, can make an issue out of this in the Philippine courts.

And do take note that a petition for recognition, while supposedly a no-brainer in proving in court as it is usually uncontested, imposes strict rules. Take the case of Republic of the Philippines vs Jocelyn Asusano Kikuchi, as represented by Edwin E. Asusano, GR 243646 promulgated last 22 June 2022.

Jocelyn filed a petition for the recognition of the divorce decree obtained by her and her erstwhile husband Fumio U. Kikuchi in Japan. Submitted to the court were the usual documents for granting the petition. These were the divorce decree in the form of a grant from the Mayor of Sakado City, Saitama Prefecture, an authentication of said document from our consulate in Japan and a copy of the Civil Code of Japan on divorce.

The public prosecutor, supposedly the defender of the marriage bond and who usually opposes the petition, registered no objection to the evidence presented. Thus, the trial court, finding everything in order, granted the petition and recognized the divorce decree. In short, under our laws, Jocelyn can already get married, if she so wishes.

Lo and behold, the Office of the Solicitor-General, the State counsel who delegated the authority to defend the marriage bond to the public prosecutor, was not in agreement with the court’s decision. It asked the court to give its decision a second look and reverse it. The trial court turned it down. Because of this, the Solicitor-General brought the matter to the Court of Appeals. The appellate body did not give the Solicitor-General the nod it wanted. To its mind, the decision was in accord with law.

This prompted the Solicitor-General to question this before the Supreme Court. The Highest Court, in deciding the petition, said that Jocelyn was able to properly prove the fact of divorce. While it may not have been obtained judicially, but rather administratively through the Mayor, since it conforms to Japanese law, such is acceptable. Moreover, the authentication of the document, having been done by our consular office in Japan, is in order. This means that the document, although executed abroad, can be recognized by our courts. Indubitably, the divorce decree was properly proven.

However, this is where the complication arose. There was an issue with proving the law of Japan allowing divorce.

“To prove that the divorce was valid under Japanese laws, Jocelyn submitted a photocopy of the English translation of the Civil Code of Japan, published by Eibun-Horei-Sha Inc. and stamped with ‘LIBRARY, Japan Information and Culture Center, Embassy of Japan, 2627 Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City.’ The Republic assails the document for being insufficient to prove the law of Japan on divorce… We agree with the Republic. Following jurisprudence, the document is devoid of any probative value. In Nullida vs Civil Registrar of Manila, the Court held that the submission of the same document does not constitute sufficient compliance with the rules on proof of Japan’s law of divorce… The Court noted that the translations by Eibun-Horei-Sha Inc. (the publisher of the document submitted by Jocelyn) are not advertised as a source of official translations of Japanese laws. Not being an official translation, the document being submitted… does not prove the existing law on divorce in Japan… Without such evidence, there is nothing on record to establish that the divorce between Jocelyn and Fumio was validly obtained and is consistent with the Japanese law on divorce.”

I guess after reading this far, you will conclude that the Court reverses completely the grant of the petition and leaves Jocelyn with no victory whatsoever. Do not worry, this is a “feel good movie” that still has a more or less happy ending. So, the Court continued, “given that Jocelyn was able to prove the fact of divorce but not the Japanese law on divorce, a remand of the case rather than its outright dismissal is proper. This is consistent with the policy of liberality that the Court has adopted in cases involving the recognition of foreign decrees to Filipinos in mixed marriages.”

Good for Jocelyn, not all is lost. All she needs to do is just properly prove the foreign law in accordance with our rules.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *