As a rule, a person is required to use the name with which he or she was registered at birth in the office of the local civil registry. Generally, only a select group of persons like Love Marie Ongpauco (a.k.a. Heart Evangelista), Phylbert Angellie Ranollo Pagestrom (a.k.a. Bea Alonzo), Angelica Colmenares (a.k.a. Angel Locsin) and Joseph Ejercito (a.k.a. Joseph Estrada) can use a pseudonym.
Commonwealth Act (“C.A.”) No. 142 provides:
Section 1. Except as a pseudonym solely for literary, cinema, television, radio or other entertainment purposes and in athletic events where the use of pseudonym is a normally accepted practice, no person shall use any name different from the one with which he was registered at birth in the office of the local civil registry or with which he was baptized for the first time, or in case of an alien, with which he was registered in the bureau of immigration upon entry; or such substitute name as may have been authorized by a competent court: Provided, That persons whose births have not been registered in any local civil registry and who have not been baptized, have one year from the approval of this act within which to register their names in the civil registry of their residence. The name shall comprise the patronymic name and one or two surnames.
Section 2. Any person desiring to use an alias shall apply for authority therefor in proceedings like those legally provided to obtain judicial authority for a change of name and no person shall be allowed to secure such judicial authority for more than one alias. The petition for an alias shall set forth the person’s baptismal and family name and the name recorded in the civil registry, if different, his immigrant’s name, if an alien, and his pseudonym, if he has such names other than his original or real name, specifying the reason or reasons for the desired alias. The judicial authority for the use of alias, the Christian name and the alien immigrant’s name shall be recorded in the proper local civil registry, and no person shall use any name or names other than his original or real name unless the same is or are duly recorded in the proper local civil registry.
According to the Supreme Court, CA 142 is violated by the use of an alias. In People of the Philippines vs. Joseph Ejercito, G.R. No. 164368-69, April 2, 2009, the Supreme Court, citing the earlier case of Ursua vs. Court of Appeals, defined an “alias” as:
a name or names used by a person or intended to be used by him publicly and habitually usually in business transactions in addition to his real name by which he is registered at birth or baptized the first time or substitute name authorized by a competent authority. There must be, in the words of Ursua, a “sign or indication that the user intends to be known by this name (the alias) in addition to his real name from that day forth … [for the use of alias to] fall within the prohibition contained in C.A. No. 142 as amended.
The person must use the alias publicly and habitually. In relation to the public use of an alias, the Supreme Court explained:
. . . the required publicity in the use of alias is more than mere communication to a third person; the use of the alias, to be considered public, must be made openly, or in an open manner or place, or to cause it to become generally known. In order to be held liable for a violation of CA No. 142, the user of the alias must have held himself out as a person who shall publicly be known under that other name. In other words, the intent to publicly use the alias must be manifest.
Given the foregoing, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution’s evidence that former President Estrada used the name “Jose Velarde” when he opened bank trust accounts in the presence of PCIB officers Clarissa Ocampo and Manuel Curato, Malacanang Chief of Staff Aprodicio Lacquian and Estrada lawyer-friend Fernando Chua was not a public use of the alias. According to the Supreme Court:
Our close reading of Ursua – particularly, the requirement that there be intention by the user to be culpable and the historical reasons we cited above – tells us that the required publicity in the use of alias is more than mere communication to a third person; the use of the alias, to be considered public, must be made openly, or in an open manner or place, or to cause it to become generally known. In order to be held liable for a violation of CA No. 142, the user of the alias must have held himself out as a person who shall publicly be known under that other name. In other words, the intent to publicly use the alias must be manifest.
To our mind, the presence of Lacquian and Chua when Estrada signed as Jose Velarde and opened Trust Account No. C-163 does not necessarily indicate his intention to be publicly known henceforth as Jose Velarde. In relation to Estrada, Lacquian and Chua were not part of the public who had no access to Estrada’s privacy and to the confidential matters that transpired in Malacañan where he sat as President; Lacquian was the Chief of Staff with whom he shared matters of the highest and strictest confidence, while Chua was a lawyer-friend bound by his oath of office and ties of friendship to keep and maintain the privacy and secrecy of his affairs. Thus, Estrada could not be said to have intended his signing as Jose Velarde to be for public consumption by the fact alone that Lacquian and Chua were also inside the room at that time. The same holds true for Estrada’s alleged representations with Ortaliza and Dichavez, assuming the evidence for these representations to be admissible. All of Estrada’s representations to these people were made in privacy and in secrecy, with no iota of intention of publicity.
The Supreme Court also stated that the nature of the transaction on which the indictment rests affords Estrada a reasonable expectation of privacy, as the alleged criminal act related to the opening of a trust account – a transaction that Republic Act (“R.A.”) No. 1405 considers absolutely confidential in nature:
We have consistently ruled that bank deposits under R.A. No. 1405 (the Secrecy of Bank Deposits Law) are statutorily protected or recognized zones of privacy. Given the private nature of Estrada’s act of signing the documents as “Jose Velarde” related to the opening of the trust account, the People cannot claim that there was already a public use of alias when Ocampo and Curato witnessed the signing. We need not even consider here the impact of the obligations imposed by R.A. No.1405 on the bank officers; what is essentially significant is the privacy situation that is necessarily implied in these kinds of transactions. This statutorily guaranteed privacy and secrecy effectively negate a conclusion that the transaction was done publicly or with the intent to use the alias publicly.
The Supreme Court noted the enactment of R.A. No. 9160 (the “Anti-Money Laundering Act”), which prohibits the opening of accounts under fictitious names. However, the Supreme Court stated that Anti-Money Laundering Act, which was enacted after Estrada’s alleged use of an alias in opening the trust account, cannot be applied to Estrada:
The enactment of R.A. No.9160, on the other hand, is a significant development only because it clearly manifests that prior to its enactment, numbered accounts or anonymous accounts were permitted banking transactions, whether they be allowed by law or by a mere banking regulation. To be sure, an indictment against Estrada using this relatively recent law cannot be maintained without violating the constitutional prohibition on the enactment and use of ex post facto laws. . . . R.A. No. 9160, as a law of recent vintage in relation to the indictment against Estrada, cannot be a source or an influencing factor in his indictment.
The Supreme Court pointed out that it did not decide whether Estrada’s use of an alias when he occupied the highest executive position in the land was valid and legal; according to the Supreme Court, it simply determined whether he may be made liable for the offense charged based on the evidence presented.