[G.R. NO. 159374 : July 12, 2007]
FELIPE N. MADRIÃ‘AN, Petitioner, v. FRANCISCA R. MADRIÃ‘AN, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
When a family breaks up, the children are always the victims. The ensuing battle for custody of the minor children is not only a thorny issue but also a highly sensitive and heart-rending affair. Such is the case here. Even the usually technical subject of jurisdiction became emotionally charged.
Petitioner Felipe N. MadriÃ±an and respondent Francisca R. MadriÃ±an were married on July 7, 1993 in ParaÃ±aque City. They resided in San Agustin Village, Brgy. Moonwalk, ParaÃ±aque City.
Their union was blessed with three sons and a daughter: Ronnick, born on January 30, 1994; Phillip, born on November 19, 1996; Francis Angelo, born on May 12, 1998 and Krizia Ann, born on December 12, 2000.
After a bitter quarrel on May 18, 2002, petitioner allegedly left their conjugal abode and took their three sons with him to Ligao City, Albay and subsequently to Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Respondent sought the help of her parents and parents-in-law to patch things up between her and petitioner to no avail. She then brought the matter to the Lupong Tagapamayapa in their barangay but this too proved futile.
Thus respondent filed a petition for habeas corpus of Ronnick, Phillip and Francis Angelo in the Court of Appeals, alleging that petitioner's act of leaving the conjugal dwelling and going to Albay and then to Laguna disrupted the education of their children and deprived them of their mother's care. She prayed that petitioner be ordered to appear and produce their sons before the court and to explain why they should not be returned to her custody.
Petitioner and respondent appeared at the hearing on September 17, 2002. They initially agreed that petitioner would return the custody of their three sons to respondent. Petitioner, however, had a change of heart1 and decided to file a memorandum.
On September 3, 2002, petitioner filed his memorandum2 alleging that respondent was unfit to take custody of their three sons because she was habitually drunk, frequently went home late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, spent much of her time at a beer house and neglected her duties as a mother. He claimed that, after their squabble on May 18, 2002, it was respondent who left, taking their daughter with her. It was only then that he went to Sta. Rosa, Laguna where he worked as a tricycle driver. He submitted a certification from the principal of the Dila Elementary School in Sta. Rosa, Laguna that Ronnick and Phillip were enrolled there. He also questioned the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals claiming that under Section 5(b) of RA 8369 (otherwise known as the "Family Courts Act of 1997") family courts have exclusive original jurisdiction to hear and decide the petition for habeas corpus filed by respondent.3
For her part, respondent averred that she did not leave their home on May 18, 2002 but was driven out by petitioner. She alleged that it was petitioner who was an alcoholic, gambler and drug addict. Petitioner's alcoholism and drug addiction impaired his mental faculties, causing him to commit acts of violence against her and their children. The situation was aggravated by the fact that their home was adjacent to that of her in-laws who frequently meddled in their personal problems.4
On October 21, 2002, the Court of Appeals5 rendered a decision6 asserting its authority to take cognizance of the petition and ruling that, under Article 213 of the Family Code, respondent was entitled to the custody of Phillip and Francis Angelo who were at that time aged six and four, respectively, subject to the visitation rights of petitioner. With respect to Ronnick who was then eight years old, the court ruled that his custody should be determined by the proper family court in a special proceeding on custody of minors under Rule 99 of the Rules of Court.
Petitioner moved for reconsideration of the Court of Appeals decision but it was denied. Hence, this recourse.
Petitioner challenges the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals over the petition for habeas corpus and insists that jurisdiction over the case is lodged in the family courts under RA 8369. He invokes Section 5(b) of RA 8369:
Section 5. Jurisdiction of Family Courts. - The Family Courts shall have exclusive original jurisdiction to hear and decide the following cases:
x x x x x x x x x
b) Petitions for guardianship, custody of children, habeas corpus in relation to the latter;
x x x x x x x x x
Petitioner is wrong.
In Thornton v. Thornton,7 this Court resolved the issue of the Court of Appeals' jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus in cases involving custody of minors in the light of the provision in RA 8369 giving family courts exclusive original jurisdiction over such petitions:
The Court of Appeals should take cognizance of the case since there is nothing in RA 8369 that revoked its jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus involving the custody of minors.
x x x x x x x x x
We rule therefore that RA 8369 did not divest the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of their jurisdiction over habeas corpus cases involving the custody of minors.
x x x x x x x x x
The provisions of RA 8369 reveal no manifest intent to revoke the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court to issue writs of habeas corpus relating to the custody of minors. Further, it cannot be said that the provisions of RA 8369, RA 7092 [An Act Expanding the Jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals] and BP 129 [The Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980] are absolutely incompatible since RA 8369 does not prohibit the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court from issuing writs of habeas corpus in cases involving the custody of minors. Thus, the provisions of RA 8369 must be read in harmony with RA 7029 and BP 129 - that family courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in petitions for habeas corpus where the custody of minors is at issue.8 (emphases supplied)
The jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals over petitions for habeas corpus was further affirmed by A.M. No. 03-03-04-SC (April 22, 2004) in Re: Rule on Custody of Minors and Writ of Habeas Corpus in Relation to Custody of Minors:
In any case, whatever uncertainty there was has been settled with the adoption of A.M. No. 03-03-04-SC Re: Rule on Custody of Minors and Writ of Habeas Corpus in Relation to Custody of Minors. Section 20 of the rule provides that:
Section 20. Petition for writ of habeas corpus. - A verified petition for a writ of habeas corpus involving custody of minors shall be filed with the Family Court. The writ shall be enforceable within its judicial region to which the Family Court belongs.
x x x x x x x x x
The petition may likewise be filed with the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, or with any of its members and, if so granted, the writ shall be enforceable anywhere in the Philippines. The writ may be made returnable to a Family Court or to any regular court within the region where the petitioner resides or where the minor may be found for hearing and decision on the merits.
From the foregoing, there is no doubt that the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have concurrent jurisdiction with family courts in habeas corpus cases where the custody of minors is involved.9 (emphases supplied)chanrobles virtual law library
We note that after petitioner moved out of their ParaÃ±aque residence on May 18, 2002, he twice transferred his sons to provinces covered by different judicial regions. This situation is what the Thornton interpretation of RA 8369's provision on jurisdiction precisely addressed:
[The reasoning that by giving family courts exclusive jurisdiction over habeas corpus cases, the lawmakers intended them to be the sole courts which can issue writs of habeas corpus] will result in an iniquitous situation, leaving individuals like [respondent] without legal recourse in obtaining custody of their children. Individuals who do not know the whereabouts of minors they are looking for would be helpless since they cannot seek redress from family courts whose writs are enforceable only in their respective territorial jurisdictions. Thus, if a minor is being transferred from one place to another, which seems to be the case here, the petitioner in a habeas corpus case will be left without legal remedy. This lack of recourse could not have been the intention of the lawmakers when they passed [RA 8369].10
Moreover, a careful reading of Section 5(b) of RA 8369 reveals that family courts are vested with original exclusive jurisdiction in custody cases, not in habeas corpus cases. Writs of habeas corpus which may be issued exclusively by family courts under Section 5(b) of RA 8369 pertain to the ancillary remedy that may be availed of in conjunction with a petition for custody of minors under Rule 99 of the Rules of Court. In other words, the issuance of the writ is merely ancillary to the custody case pending before the family court. The writ must be issued by the same court to avoid splitting of jurisdiction, conflicting decisions, interference by a co-equal court and judicial instability.
The rule therefore is: when by law jurisdiction is conferred on a court or judicial officer, all auxiliary writs, processes and other means necessary to carry it into effect may be employed by such court or officer.11 Once a court acquires jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case, it does so to the exclusion of all other courts, including related incidents and ancillary matters.
Accordingly, the petition is hereby DENIED.
Costs against petitioner.
* On leave.
** No part.
1 Both parties accused each other's parents of constant meddling in their family life.
2 Rollo, pp. 44-56.
4 Id., pp. 37-43.
5 First Division.
6 Penned by Associate Justice Rebecca de Guia-Salvador with Associate Justices Cancio C. Garcia (now a member of the Supreme Court) and Bernardo P. Abesamis (retired) concurring. Rollo, pp. 19-26.
7 G.R. No. 154598, 16 August 2004, 436 SCRA 550.
11 Section 6, Rule 135, Rules of Court.