G.R. No. 133743, 6 February 2007
The instant case involves the settlement of the estate of Felicisimo T. San Luis (Felicisimo), who was the former governor of the Province of Laguna. During his lifetime, Felicisimo contracted three marriages. The first marriage was with Virginia Sulit on March 17, 1942 out of which were born six children, namely: Rodolfo, Mila, Edgar, Linda, Emilita and Manuel. On August 11, 1963, Virginia predeceased Felicisimo. The second was Merry Lee Corwin, with whom he had a son, Tobias; and Felicidad San Luis, and then surnamed Sagalongos, with whom he had no children with respondent but lived with her for 18 years from the time of their marriage up to his death.
Respondent sought the dissolution of their conjugal partnership assets and the settlement of Felicisimo’s estate. On December 17, 1993, she filed a petition for letters of administration before the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 146.
Thereater, the heirs of Virginia Sulit filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of improper venue and failure to state a cause of action. But the trial court issued an order denying the two motions to dismiss. On September 12, 1995, the trial court dismissed the petition for letters of administration. It held that, at the time of his death, Felicisimo was the duly elected governor and a resident of the Province of Laguna. Hence, the petition should have been filed in Sta. Cruz, Laguna and not in Makati City. It also ruled that respondent was without legal capacity to file the petition for letters of administration because her marriage with Felicisimo was bigamous, thus, void ab initio. The Court of Appeals reversed and set aside the orders of the trial court, and, hence, the case before the Supreme Court.
Whether respondent has legal capacity to file the subject petition for letters of administration
Respondent would qualify as an interested person who has a direct interest in the estate of Felicisimo by virtue of their cohabitation, the existence of which was not denied by petitioners. If she proves the validity of the divorce and Felicisimo’s capacity to remarry, but fails to prove that her marriage with him was validly performed under the laws of the U.S.A., then she may be considered as a co-owner under Article 144 of the Civil Code. This provision governs the property relations between parties who live together as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage, or their marriage is void from the beginning. It provides that the property acquired by either or both of them through their work or industry or their wages and salaries shall be governed by the rules on co-ownership. In a co- ownership, it is not necessary that the property be acquired through their joint labor, efforts and industry. Any property acquired during the union is prima facie presumed to have been obtained through their joint efforts. Hence, the portions belonging to the co-owners shall be presumed equal, unless the contrary is proven.
Morover, the Supreme Court found that respondent’s legal capacity to file the subject petition for letters of administration may arise from her status as the surviving wife of Felicisimo or as his co- owner under Article 144 of the Civil Code or Article 148 of the Family Code.
The order of the Regional Trial Court which denied petitioners’ motion to dismiss and its October 24, 1994 Order which dismissed petitioners’ motion for reconsideration is affirmed. It was also REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings.
* Case digest by Liezel O. Lagare, LLB-1, Andres Bonifacio Law School, SY 2017-2018