G.R. No. L-19281, 30 June 1965, 14 SCRA 563
Pedro Santillon died without testament, leaving one son, Claro, and his wife, Perfecta Miranda.
Claro Santillon filed a petition for letters of administration. Opposition to said petition was entered by the widow Perfecta Miranda and the spouses Benito U. Miranda and Rosario Corrales on the following grounds:
(a) that the properties enumerated in the petition were all conjugal, except three parcels which Perfecta Miranda claimed to be her exclusive properties; and
(b) that Perfecta Miranda by virtue of two documents had conveyed 3/4 of her undivided share in most of the properties enumerated in the petition to said spouses Benito and Rosario.
Claro filed a motion to declare share of heirs to resolve the conflicting claims of the parties with respect to their respective rights in the estate. Invoking Art. 892 of the New Civil Code, he insisted that after deducting 1/2 from the conjugal properties is the conjugal share of Perfecta, the remaining 1/2 must be divided as follows: 1/4 for her and 3/4 for him. Oppositor Perfecta, on the other hand, claimed that besides her conjugal half, she was entitled under Art. 996 of the New Civil Code to another 1/2 of the remaining half. In other words, Claro claimed 3/4 of Pedro’s inheritance, while Perfecta claimed 1/2.
The trial court held that in the intestate succession of the deceased Pedro Santillon, the surviving spouse Perfecta Miranda shall inherit 1/2 share and the remaining 1/2 share for the only son, Atty. Claro Santillon.
What provision of the Civil Code must properly apply?
Art. 892 of the New Civil Code falls under the chapter on Testamentary Succession; whereas Art. 996 comes under the chapter on Legal or Intestate Succession. Such being the case, it is obvious that Claro cannot rely on Art. 892 to support his claim to 3/4 of his father’s estate. Art 892 merely fixes the legitime of the surviving spouse and Art. 888 thereof, the legitime of children in testate succession. While it may indicate the intent of the law with respect to the ideal shares that a child and a spouse should get when they concur with each other, it does not fix the amount of shares that such child and spouse are entitled to when intestacy occurs. Because if the latter happens, the pertinent provision on intestate succession shall apply, i.e., Art. 996.
The theory of those holding otherwise seems to be premised on these propositions: (a) Art. 996 speaks of “Children,” therefore it does not apply when there is only one “child”; consequently Art. 892 (and Art. 888) should be applied, thru a process of judicial construction and analogy; (b) Art. 996 is unjust or unfair because, whereas in testate succession, the widow is assigned one-fourth only (Art. 892), she would get 1/2 in intestate.
It is a maxim of statutory construction that words in plural include the singular.
So Art. 996 could or should be read (and so applied): “If the widow or widower and a legitimate child are left, the surviving spouse has the same share as that of the child.” Indeed, if we refuse to apply the article to this case on the ground that “child” is not included in “children,” the consequences would be tremendous.
Unfairness of Art. 996. — Such position, more clearly stated, is this: In testate succession, where there is only one child of the marriage, the child gets one-half, and the widow or widower one-fourth. But in intestate, if Art. 996 is applied now, the child gets one-half, and the widow or widower one-half. Unfair or inequitable, they insist.
On this point, it is not correct to assume that in testate succession the widow or widower “gets only one- fourth.” She or he may get one-half — if the testator so wishes. So, the law virtually leaves it to each of the spouses to decide (by testament, whether his or her only child shall get more than his or her survivor).
This is, remember, intestate proceedings. In the New Civil Code’s chapter on legal or intestate succession, the only article applicable is Art. 996. Our colleague, Mr. Justice J.B.L. Reyes, professor of Civil Law, is quoted as having expressed the opinion that under this article, when the widow survives with only one legitimate child, they share the estate in equal parts. Senator Tolentino in his commentaries writes as follows:
One child Surviving. — If there is only one legitimate child surviving with the spouse, since they share equally, one-half of the estate goes to the child and the other half goes to the surviving spouse. Although the law refers to “children or descendants,” the rule in statutory construction that the plural can be understood to include the singular is applicable in this case.
*Case digest by Terrence Eyre Belangoy, LLB-IV, Andres Bonifacio College Law School, SY 2018-2019