Use by married woman of her maiden name in her replacement passport

Can a married woman, who originally used her husband’s surname in her expired passport, revert to the use of her maiden name in the replacement passport, despite the subsistence of her marriage?

In Ma. Virginia V. Remo vs. The Honorable Secretary of Foreign Affairs, G.R. No. 169202, March 5, 2010, petitioner Maria Virginia V. Remo is a married Filipino citizen whose Philippine passport was then expiring on 27 October 2000. Petitioner is married to Francisco R. Rallonza and the following entries appear in her passport: “Rallonza” as her surname, “Maria Virginia” as her given name, and “Remo” as her middle name. Prior to the expiry of the validity of her passport, petitioner, whose marriage still subsists, applied for the renewal of her passport with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) office in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., with a request to revert to her maiden name and surname in the replacement passport.

The DFA denied the request.  According to the DFA:

Use of maiden name is allowed in passport application only if the married name has not been used in previous application. The Implementing Rules and Regulations for Philippine Passport Act of 1996 clearly defines the conditions when a woman applicant may revert to her maiden name, that is, only in cases of annulment of marriage, divorce and death of the husband. Ms. Remo’s case does not meet any of these conditions.

Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was denied by the DFA and this prompted petitioner to appeal the matter to the Office of the President, which similarly denied the request as well as a subsequent motion for reconsideration.  Petitioner then filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals, which also denied the petition.

The Court of Appeals found no conflict between Article 370 of the Civil Code and Section 5(d) of RA 8239. The Court of Appeals held that for passport application and issuance purposes, RA 8239 limits the instances when a married woman applicant may exercise the option to revert to the use of her maiden name such as in a case of a divorce decree, annulment or declaration of nullity of marriage. Since there was no showing that petitioner’s marriage to Francisco Rallonza has been annulled, declared void or a divorce decree has been granted to them, petitioner cannot simply revert to her maiden name in the replacement passport after she had adopted her husband’s surname in her old passport. Hence, according to the Court of Appeals, the DFA was justified in refusing the request of petitioner to revert to her maiden name in the replacement passport.

The Supreme Court also denied the petition for lack of merit.

The Supreme Court noted that a married woman has the option, but not the duty, to use the surname of the husband:

Title XIII of the Civil Code governs the use of surnames. In the case of a married woman, Article 370 of the Civil Code provides:

ART. 370. A married woman may use:

(1) HER MAIDEN FIRST NAME AND SURNAME AND ADD HER HUSBAND’S SURNAME, OR

(2) HER MAIDEN FIRST NAME AND HER HUSBAND’S SURNAME, OR

(3) HER HUSBAND’S FULL NAME, BUT PREFIXING A WORD INDICATING THAT SHE IS HIS WIFE, SUCH AS “MRS.”

We agree with petitioner that the use of the word “may” in the above provision indicates that the use of the husband’s surname by the wife is permissive rather than obligatory. . .

Clearly, a married woman has an option, but not a duty, to use the surname of the husband in any of the ways provided by Article 370 of the Civil Code. She is therefore allowed to use not only any of the three names provided in Article 370, but also her maiden name upon marriage. She is not prohibited from continuously using her maiden name once she is married because when a woman marries, she does not change her name but only her civil status. Further, this interpretation is in consonance with the principle that surnames indicate descent.

However, the Supreme Court differentiated petitioner’s case from that in Yasin, which petitioner was citing as precedent:

In Yasin, petitioner therein filed with the Shari’a District Court a “Petition to resume the use of maiden name” in view of the dissolution of her marriage by divorce under the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines, and after marriage of her former husband to another woman. . .

In the present case, petitioner, whose marriage is still subsisting and who opted to use her husband’s surname in her old passport, requested to resume her maiden name in the replacement passport arguing that no law prohibits her from using her maiden name. Petitioner cites Yasin as the applicable precedent. However,Yasin is not squarely in point with this case. Unlike in Yasin, which involved a Muslim divorcee whose former husband is already married to another woman, petitioner’s marriage remains subsisting. Another point, Yasin did not involve a request to resume one’s maiden name in a replacement passport, but a petition to resume one’s maiden name in view of the dissolution of one’s marriage.

The Supreme Court agreed with the DFA that petitioner can no longer use her maiden name in her renewal passport.

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), on behalf of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, argues that the highlighted proviso in Section 5(d) of RA 8239 “limits the instances when a married woman may be allowed to revert to the use of her maiden name in her passport.” These instances are death of husband, divorce decree, annulment or nullity of marriage. . .

Since petitioner’s marriage to her husband subsists, placing her case outside of the purview of Section 5(d) of RA 8239 (as to the instances when a married woman may revert to the use of her maiden name), she may not resume her maiden name in the replacement passport. This prohibition, according to petitioner, conflicts with and, thus, operates as an implied repeal of Article 370 of the Civil Code.

Petitioner is mistaken.  The conflict between Article 370 of the Civil Code and Section 5(D) of RA 8329 is more imagined than real.  RA 8329, including its implementing rules and regulations, does not prohibit a married woman from using her maiden name in her passport.  In fact, in recognition of this right, the DFA allows a married woman who applies for a passport for the first time to use her maiden name.  Such an applicant is not required to adopt her husband’s surname.

In the case of renewal of passport, a married woman may either adopt her husband’s surname or continuously use her maiden name. If she chooses to adopt her husband’s surname in her new passport, the DFA additionally requires the submission of an authenticated copy of the marriage certificate. Otherwise, if she prefers to continue using her maiden name, she may still do so. The DFA will not prohibit her from continuously using her maiden name.

However, once a married woman opted to adopt her husband’s surname in her passport, she may not revert to the use of her maiden name, except in the cases enumerated in Section 5(D) of RA 8329.  These instances are:  (1)  death of husband, (2)  divorce, (3)  annulment, or (4) nullity of marriage.  Since petitioner’s marriage to her husband subsists, she may not resume her maiden name in the replacement passport.  Otherwise stated, a married woman’s reversion to the use of her maiden name must be based only on the severance of the marriage.

Even assuming RA 8329 conflicts with the Civil Code, the provisions of RA 8329 which is a special law dealing with passport issuance must prevail over the provisions of Tittle XIII of the Civil Code which is the general law on the use of surnames.

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