Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 174689             October 22, 2007

ROMMEL JACINTO DANTES SILVERIO, petitioner,
vs.
REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondent.

D E C I S I O N

CORONA, J.:

When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God; He created them male and female. (Genesis 5:1-2)

Amihan gazed upon the bamboo reed planted by Bathala and she heard voices coming from inside the bamboo. "Oh North Wind! North Wind! Please let us out!," the voices said. She pecked the reed once, then twice. All of a sudden, the bamboo cracked and slit open. Out came two human beings; one was a male and the other was a female. Amihan named the man "Malakas" (Strong) and the woman "Maganda" (Beautiful). (The Legend of Malakas and Maganda)

When is a man a man and when is a woman a woman? In particular, does the law recognize the changes made by a physician using scalpel, drugs and counseling with regard to a personís sex? May a person successfully petition for a change of name and sex appearing in the birth certificate to reflect the result of a sex reassignment surgery?

On November 26, 2002, petitioner Rommel Jacinto Dantes Silverio filed a petition for the change of his first name and sex in his birth certificate in the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 8. The petition, docketed as SP Case No. 02-105207, impleaded the civil registrar of Manila as respondent.

Petitioner alleged in his petition that he was born in the City of Manila to the spouses Melecio Petines Silverio and Anita Aquino Dantes on April 4, 1962. His name was registered as "Rommel Jacinto Dantes Silverio" in his certificate of live birth (birth certificate). His sex was registered as "male."

He further alleged that he is a male transsexual, that is, "anatomically male but feels, thinks and acts as a female" and that he had always identified himself with girls since childhood.1 Feeling trapped in a manís body, he consulted several doctors in the United States. He underwent psychological examination, hormone treatment and breast augmentation. His attempts to transform himself to a "woman" culminated on January 27, 2001 when he underwent sex reassignment surgery2 in Bangkok, Thailand. He was thereafter examined by Dr. Marcelino Reysio-Cruz, Jr., a plastic and reconstruction surgeon in the Philippines, who issued a medical certificate attesting that he (petitioner) had in fact undergone the procedure.

From then on, petitioner lived as a female and was in fact engaged to be married. He then sought to have his name in his birth certificate changed from "Rommel Jacinto" to "Mely," and his sex from "male" to "female."

An order setting the case for initial hearing was published in the Peopleís Journal Tonight, a newspaper of general circulation in Metro Manila, for three consecutive weeks.3 Copies of the order were sent to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and the civil registrar of Manila.

On the scheduled initial hearing, jurisdictional requirements were established. No opposition to the petition was made.

During trial, petitioner testified for himself. He also presented Dr. Reysio-Cruz, Jr. and his American fiancé, Richard P. Edel, as witnesses.

On June 4, 2003, the trial court rendered a decision4 in favor of petitioner. Its relevant portions read:

Petitioner filed the present petition not to evade any law or judgment or any infraction thereof or for any unlawful motive but solely for the purpose of making his birth records compatible with his present sex.

The sole issue here is whether or not petitioner is entitled to the relief asked for.

The [c]ourt rules in the affirmative.

Firstly, the [c]ourt is of the opinion that granting the petition would be more in consonance with the principles of justice and equity. With his sexual [re-assignment], petitioner, who has always felt, thought and acted like a woman, now possesses the physique of a female. Petitionerís misfortune to be trapped in a manís body is not his own doing and should not be in any way taken against him.

Likewise, the [c]ourt believes that no harm, injury [or] prejudice will be caused to anybody or the community in granting the petition. On the contrary, granting the petition would bring the much-awaited happiness on the part of the petitioner and her [fiancé] and the realization of their dreams.

Finally, no evidence was presented to show any cause or ground to deny the present petition despite due notice and publication thereof. Even the State, through the [OSG] has not seen fit to interpose any [o]pposition.

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered GRANTING the petition and ordering the Civil Registrar of Manila to change the entries appearing in the Certificate of Birth of [p]etitioner, specifically for petitionerís first name from "Rommel Jacinto" to MELY and petitionerís gender from "Male" to FEMALE. 5

On August 18, 2003, the Republic of the Philippines (Republic), thru the OSG, filed a petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals.6 It alleged that there is no law allowing the change of entries in the birth certificate by reason of sex alteration.

On February 23, 2006, the Court of Appeals7 rendered a decision8 in favor of the Republic. It ruled that the trial courtís decision lacked legal basis. There is no law allowing the change of either name or sex in the certificate of birth on the ground of sex reassignment through surgery. Thus, the Court of Appeals granted the Republicís petition, set aside the decision of the trial court and ordered the dismissal of SP Case No. 02-105207. Petitioner moved for reconsideration but it was denied.9 Hence, this petition.

Petitioner essentially claims that the change of his name and sex in his birth certificate is allowed under Articles 407 to 413 of the Civil Code, Rules 103 and 108 of the Rules of Court and RA 9048.10

The petition lacks merit.

A Personís First Name Cannot Be Changed On the Ground of Sex Reassignment

Petitioner invoked his sex reassignment as the ground for his petition for change of name and sex. As found by the trial court:

Petitioner filed the present petition not to evade any law or judgment or any infraction thereof or for any unlawful motive but solely for the purpose of making his birth records compatible with his present sex. (emphasis supplied)

Petitioner believes that after having acquired the physical features of a female, he became entitled to the civil registry changes sought. We disagree.

The State has an interest in the names borne by individuals and entities for purposes of identification.11 A change of name is a privilege, not a right.12 Petitions for change of name are controlled by statutes.13 In this connection, Article 376 of the Civil Code provides:

ART. 376. No person can change his name or surname without judicial authority.

This Civil Code provision was amended by RA 9048 (Clerical Error Law). In particular, Section 1 of RA 9048 provides:

SECTION 1. Authority to Correct Clerical or Typographical Error and Change of First Name or Nickname. Ė No entry in a civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order, except for clerical or typographical errors and change of first name or nickname which can be corrected or changed by the concerned city or municipal civil registrar or consul general in accordance with the provisions of this Act and its implementing rules and regulations.

RA 9048 now governs the change of first name.14 It vests the power and authority to entertain petitions for change of first name to the city or municipal civil registrar or consul general concerned. Under the law, therefore, jurisdiction over applications for change of first name is now primarily lodged with the aforementioned administrative officers. The intent and effect of the law is to exclude the change of first name from the coverage of Rules 103 (Change of Name) and 108 (Cancellation or Correction of Entries in the Civil Registry) of the Rules of Court, until and unless an administrative petition for change of name is first filed and subsequently denied.15 It likewise lays down the corresponding venue,16 form17 and procedure. In sum, the remedy and the proceedings regulating change of first name are primarily administrative in nature, not judicial.

RA 9048 likewise provides the grounds for which change of first name may be allowed:

SECTION 4. Grounds for Change of First Name or Nickname. Ė The petition for change of first name or nickname may be allowed in any of the following cases:

(1) The petitioner finds the first name or nickname to be ridiculous, tainted with dishonor or extremely difficult to write or pronounce;

(2) The new first name or nickname has been habitually and continuously used by the petitioner and he has been publicly known by that first name or nickname in the community; or

(3) The change will avoid confusion.

Petitionerís basis in praying for the change of his first name was his sex reassignment. He intended to make his first name compatible with the sex he thought he transformed himself into through surgery. However, a change of name does not alter oneís legal capacity or civil status.18 RA 9048 does not sanction a change of first name on the ground of sex reassignment. Rather than avoiding confusion, changing petitionerís first name for his declared purpose may only create grave complications in the civil registry and the public interest.

Before a person can legally change his given name, he must present proper or reasonable cause or any compelling reason justifying such change.19 In addition, he must show that he will be prejudiced by the use of his true and official name.20 In this case, he failed to show, or even allege, any prejudice that he might suffer as a result of using his true and official name.

In sum, the petition in the trial court in so far as it prayed for the change of petitionerís first name was not within that courtís primary jurisdiction as the petition should have been filed with the local civil registrar concerned, assuming it could be legally done. It was an improper remedy because the proper remedy was administrative, that is, that provided under RA 9048. It was also filed in the wrong venue as the proper venue was in the Office of the Civil Registrar of Manila where his birth certificate is kept. More importantly, it had no merit since the use of his true and official name does not prejudice him at all. For all these reasons, the Court of Appeals correctly dismissed petitionerís petition in so far as the change of his first name was concerned.

No Law Allows The Change of Entry In The Birth Certificate As To Sex On the Ground of Sex Reassignment

The determination of a personís sex appearing in his birth certificate is a legal issue and the court must look to the statutes.21 In this connection, Article 412 of the Civil Code provides:

ART. 412. No entry in the civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order.

Together with Article 376 of the Civil Code, this provision was amended by RA 9048 in so far as clerical or typographical errors are involved. The correction or change of such matters can now be made through administrative proceedings and without the need for a judicial order. In effect, RA 9048 removed from the ambit of Rule 108 of the Rules of Court the correction of such errors.22 Rule 108 now applies only to substantial changes and corrections in entries in the civil register.23

Section 2(c) of RA 9048 defines what a "clerical or typographical error" is:

SECTION 2. Definition of Terms. Ė As used in this Act, the following terms shall mean:

xxx       xxx       xxx

(3) "Clerical or typographical error" refers to a mistake committed in the performance of clerical work in writing, copying, transcribing or typing an entry in the civil register that is harmless and innocuous, such as misspelled name or misspelled place of birth or the like, which is visible to the eyes or obvious to the understanding, and can be corrected or changed only by reference to other existing record or records: Provided, however, That no correction must involve the change of nationality, age, status or sex of the petitioner. (emphasis supplied)

Under RA 9048, a correction in the civil registry involving the change of sex is not a mere clerical or typographical error. It is a substantial change for which the applicable procedure is Rule 108 of the Rules of Court.

The entries envisaged in Article 412 of the Civil Code and correctable under Rule 108 of the Rules of Court are those provided in Articles 407 and 408 of the Civil Code:24

ART. 407. Acts, events and judicial decrees concerning the civil status of persons shall be recorded in the civil register.

ART. 408. The following shall be entered in the civil register:

(1) Births; (2) marriages; (3) deaths; (4) legal separations; (5) annulments of marriage; (6) judgments declaring marriages void from the beginning; (7) legitimations; (8) adoptions; (9) acknowledgments of natural children; (10) naturalization; (11) loss, or (12) recovery of citizenship; (13) civil interdiction; (14) judicial determination of filiation; (15) voluntary emancipation of a minor; and (16) changes of name.

The acts, events or factual errors contemplated under Article 407 of the Civil Code include even those that occur after birth.25 However, no reasonable interpretation of the provision can justify the conclusion that it covers the correction on the ground of sex reassignment.

To correct simply means "to make or set aright; to remove the faults or error from" while to change means "to replace something with something else of the same kind or with something that serves as a substitute."26 The birth certificate of petitioner contained no error. All entries therein, including those corresponding to his first name and sex, were all correct. No correction is necessary.

Article 407 of the Civil Code authorizes the entry in the civil registry of certain acts (such as legitimations, acknowledgments of illegitimate children and naturalization), events (such as births, marriages, naturalization and deaths) and judicial decrees (such as legal separations, annulments of marriage, declarations of nullity of marriages, adoptions, naturalization, loss or recovery of citizenship, civil interdiction, judicial determination of filiation and changes of name). These acts, events and judicial decrees produce legal consequences that touch upon the legal capacity, status and nationality of a person. Their effects are expressly sanctioned by the laws. In contrast, sex reassignment is not among those acts or events mentioned in Article 407. Neither is it recognized nor even mentioned by any law, expressly or impliedly.

"Status" refers to the circumstances affecting the legal situation (that is, the sum total of capacities and incapacities) of a person in view of his age, nationality and his family membership.27

The status of a person in law includes all his personal qualities and relations, more or less permanent in nature, not ordinarily terminable at his own will, such as his being legitimate or illegitimate, or his being married or not. The comprehensive term statusÖ include such matters as the beginning and end of legal personality, capacity to have rights in general, family relations, and its various aspects, such as birth, legitimation, adoption, emancipation, marriage, divorce, and sometimes even succession.28 (emphasis supplied)

A personís sex is an essential factor in marriage and family relations. It is a part of a personís legal capacity and civil status. In this connection, Article 413 of the Civil Code provides:

ART. 413. All other matters pertaining to the registration of civil status shall be governed by special laws.

But there is no such special law in the Philippines governing sex reassignment and its effects. This is fatal to petitionerís cause.

Moreover, Section 5 of Act 3753 (the Civil Register Law) provides:

SEC. 5. Registration and certification of births. Ė The declaration of the physician or midwife in attendance at the birth or, in default thereof, the declaration of either parent of the newborn child, shall be sufficient for the registration of a birth in the civil register. Such declaration shall be exempt from documentary stamp tax and shall be sent to the local civil registrar not later than thirty days after the birth, by the physician or midwife in attendance at the birth or by either parent of the newborn child.

In such declaration, the person above mentioned shall certify to the following facts: (a) date and hour of birth; (b) sex and nationality of infant; (c) names, citizenship and religion of parents or, in case the father is not known, of the mother alone; (d) civil status of parents; (e) place where the infant was born; and (f) such other data as may be required in the regulations to be issued.

xxx       xxx       xxx (emphasis supplied)

Under the Civil Register Law, a birth certificate is a historical record of the facts as they existed at the time of birth.29 Thus, the sex of a person is determined at birth, visually done by the birth attendant (the physician or midwife) by examining the genitals of the infant. Considering that there is no law legally recognizing sex reassignment, the determination of a personís sex made at the time of his or her birth, if not attended by error,30 is immutable.31

When words are not defined in a statute they are to be given their common and ordinary meaning in the absence of a contrary legislative intent. The words "sex," "male" and "female" as used in the Civil Register Law and laws concerning the civil registry (and even all other laws) should therefore be understood in their common and ordinary usage, there being no legislative intent to the contrary. In this connection, sex is defined as "the sum of peculiarities of structure and function that distinguish a male from a female"32 or "the distinction between male and female."33 Female is "the sex that produces ova or bears young"34 and male is "the sex that has organs to produce spermatozoa for fertilizing ova."35 Thus, the words "male" and "female" in everyday understanding do not include persons who have undergone sex reassignment. Furthermore, "words that are employed in a statute which had at the time a well-known meaning are presumed to have been used in that sense unless the context compels to the contrary."36 Since the statutory language of the Civil Register Law was enacted in the early 1900s and remains unchanged, it cannot be argued that the term "sex" as used then is something alterable through surgery or something that allows a post-operative male-to-female transsexual to be included in the category "female."

For these reasons, while petitioner may have succeeded in altering his body and appearance through the intervention of modern surgery, no law authorizes the change of entry as to sex in the civil registry for that reason. Thus, there is no legal basis for his petition for the correction or change of the entries in his birth certificate.

Neither May Entries in the Birth Certificate As to First Name or Sex Be Changed on the Ground of Equity

The trial court opined that its grant of the petition was in consonance with the principles of justice and equity. It believed that allowing the petition would cause no harm, injury or prejudice to anyone. This is wrong.

The changes sought by petitioner will have serious and wide-ranging legal and public policy consequences. First, even the trial court itself found that the petition was but petitionerís first step towards his eventual marriage to his male fiancé. However, marriage, one of the most sacred social institutions, is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman.37 One of its essential requisites is the legal capacity of the contracting parties who must be a male and a female.38 To grant the changes sought by petitioner will substantially reconfigure and greatly alter the laws on marriage and family relations. It will allow the union of a man with another man who has undergone sex reassignment (a male-to-female post-operative transsexual). Second, there are various laws which apply particularly to women such as the provisions of the Labor Code on employment of women,39 certain felonies under the Revised Penal Code40 and the presumption of survivorship in case of calamities under Rule 131 of the Rules of Court,41 among others. These laws underscore the public policy in relation to women which could be substantially affected if petitionerís petition were to be granted.

It is true that Article 9 of the Civil Code mandates that "[n]o judge or court shall decline to render judgment by reason of the silence, obscurity or insufficiency of the law." However, it is not a license for courts to engage in judicial legislation. The duty of the courts is to apply or interpret the law, not to make or amend it.

In our system of government, it is for the legislature, should it choose to do so, to determine what guidelines should govern the recognition of the effects of sex reassignment. The need for legislative guidelines becomes particularly important in this case where the claims asserted are statute-based.

To reiterate, the statutes define who may file petitions for change of first name and for correction or change of entries in the civil registry, where they may be filed, what grounds may be invoked, what proof must be presented and what procedures shall be observed. If the legislature intends to confer on a person who has undergone sex reassignment the privilege to change his name and sex to conform with his reassigned sex, it has to enact legislation laying down the guidelines in turn governing the conferment of that privilege.

It might be theoretically possible for this Court to write a protocol on when a person may be recognized as having successfully changed his sex. However, this Court has no authority to fashion a law on that matter, or on anything else. The Court cannot enact a law where no law exists. It can only apply or interpret the written word of its co-equal branch of government, Congress.

Petitioner pleads that "[t]he unfortunates are also entitled to a life of happiness, contentment and [the] realization of their dreams." No argument about that. The Court recognizes that there are people whose preferences and orientation do not fit neatly into the commonly recognized parameters of social convention and that, at least for them, life is indeed an ordeal. However, the remedies petitioner seeks involve questions of public policy to be addressed solely by the legislature, not by the courts.

WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DENIED.

Costs against petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, C.J., Chairperson, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Azcuna, Garcia, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Petitioner went for his elementary and high school, as well as his Bachelor of Science in Statistics and Master of Arts, in the University of the Philippines. He took up Population Studies Program, Master of Arts in Sociology and Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology at the University of Hawaii, in Manoa, Hawaii, U.S.A. Rollo, p. 48.

2 This consisted of "penectomy [surgical removal of penis] bilateral oschiectomy [or orchiectomy which is the surgical excision of the testes] penile skin inversion vaginoplasty [plastic surgery of the vagina] clitoral hood reconstruction and augmentation mammoplasty [surgical enhancement of the size and shape of the breasts]." Id.

3 On January 23, 2003, January 30, 2003 and February 6, 2003.

4 Penned by Judge Felixberto T. Olalia, Jr. Rollo, pp. 51-53.

5 Id., pp. 52-53 (citations omitted).

6 Docketed as CA-G.R. SP No. 78824.

7 Special Sixth Division.

8 Penned by Associate Justice Arcangelita M. Romilla-Lontok with Associate Justices Marina L. Buzon and Aurora Santiago-Lagman concurring. Rollo, pp. 25-33.

9 Resolution dated September 14, 2006, id., pp. 45-46.

10 An Act Authorizing the City or Municipal Civil Registrar or the Consul General to Correct a Clerical or Typographical Error in an Entry and/or Change of First Name or Nickname in the Civil Register Without Need of a Judicial Order, Amending for the Purpose Articles 376 and 412 of the Civil Code of the Philippines.

11 Wang v. Cebu City Civil Registrar, G.R. No. 159966, 30 March 2005, 454 SCRA 155.

12 Id.

13 K v. Health Division, Department of Human Resources, 277 Or. 371, 560 P.2d 1070 (1977).

14 Under Section 2 (6) of RA 9048, "first name" refers to a name or nickname given to a person which may consist of one or more names in addition to the middle names and last names. Thus, the term "first name" will be used here to refer both to first name and nickname.

15 The last paragraph of Section 7 of RA 9048 provides:

SECTION 7. Duties and Powers of the Civil Registrar General. Ė xxx xxx xxx

Where the petition is denied by the city or municipal civil registrar or the consul general, the petitioner may either appeal the decision to the civil registrar general or file the appropriate petition with the proper court.

16 SECTION 3. Who May File the Petition and Where. Ė Any person having direct and personal interest in the correction of a clerical or typographical error in an entry and/or change of first name or nickname in the civil register may file, in person, a verified petition with the local civil registry office of the city or municipality where the record being sought to be corrected or changed is kept.

In case the petitioner has already migrated to another place in the country and it would not be practical for such party, in terms of transportation expenses, time and effort to appear in person before the local civil registrar keeping the documents to be corrected or changed, the petition may be filed, in person, with the local civil registrar of the place where the interested party is presently residing or domiciled. The two (2) local civil registrars concerned will then communicate to facilitate the processing of the petition.

Citizens of the Philippines who are presently residing or domiciled in foreign countries may file their petition, in person, with the nearest Philippine Consulates.

The petitions filed with the city or municipal civil registrar or the consul general shall be processed in accordance with this Act and its implementing rules and regulations.

All petitions for the clerical or typographical errors and/or change of first names or nicknames may be availed of only once.

17 SECTION 5. Form and Contents of the Petition. Ė The petition shall be in the form of an affidavit, subscribed and sworn to before any person authorized by the law to administer oaths. The affidavit shall set forth facts necessary to establish the merits of the petition and shall show affirmatively that the petitioner is competent to testify to the matters stated. The petitioner shall state the particular erroneous entry or entries, which are sought to be corrected and/or the change sought to be made.

The petition shall be supported with the following documents:

(1) A certified true machine copy of the certificate or of the page of the registry book containing the entry or entries sought to be corrected or changed;

(2) At least two (2) public or private documents showing the correct entry or entries upon which the correction or change shall be based; and

(3) Other documents which the petitioner or the city or municipal civil registrar or the consul general may consider relevant and necessary for the approval of the petition.

In case of change of first name or nickname, the petition shall likewise be supported with the documents mentioned in the immediately preceding paragraph. In addition, the petition shall be published at least once a week for two (2) consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation. Furthermore, the petitioner shall submit a certification from the appropriate law enforcement agencies that he has no pending case or no criminal record.

18 Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 97906, 21 May 1992, 209 SCRA 189.

19 Supra note 11.

20 Id.

21 In re Ladrach, 32 Ohio Misc.2d 6, 513 N.E.2d 828 (1987).

22 Lee v. Court of Appeals, 419 Phil. 392 (2001).

23 Id.

24 Co v. Civil Register of Manila, G.R. No. 138496, 23 February 2004, 423 SCRA 420.

25 Id.

26 Id.

27 Beduya v. Republic of the Philippines, 120 Phil. 114 (1964).

28 Salonga, Jovito, Private International Law, 1995 Edition, Rex Bookstore, p. 238.

29 This, of course, should be taken in conjunction with Articles 407 and 412 of the Civil Code which authorizes the recording of acts, events and judicial decrees or the correction or change of errors including those that occur after birth. Nonetheless, in such cases, the entries in the certificates of birth are not be corrected or changed. The decision of the court granting the petition shall be annotated in the certificates of birth and shall form part of the civil register in the Office of the Local Civil Registrar. (Co v. Civil Register of Manila, supra note 24)

30 The error pertains to one where the birth attendant writes "male" or "female" but the genitals of the child are that of the opposite sex.

31 Moreover, petitionerís female anatomy is all man-made. The body that he inhabits is a male body in all aspects other than what the physicians have supplied.

32 Blackís Law Dictionary, 8th edition (2004), p.1406.

33 Words and Phrases, volume 39, Permanent Edition, p. 106.

34 In re Application for Marriage License for Nash, 2003-Ohio-7221 (No. 2002-T-0149, slip op., Not Reported in N.E.2d, 2003 WL 23097095 (Ohio App. 11 Dist., December 31, 2003), citing Websterís II New College Dictionary (1999).

35 Id.

36 Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 221 U.S. 1 (1911), 31 S.Ct. 502, 55 L.Ed. 619.

37 Article 1, Family Code.

38 Article 2(1), Id.

39 These are Articles 130 to 138 of the Labor Code which include nightwork prohibition, facilities for women, prohibition on discrimination and stipulation against marriage, among others.

40 These include Article 333 on adultery, Articles 337 to 339 on qualified seduction, simple seduction and acts of lasciviousness with the consent of the offended party and Articles 342 and 343 on forcible and consented abduction, among others.

41 Section 3(jj)(4).


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