Thursday, August 2, 2007

Jurisdiction in habeas corpus involving custody of minors

Family courts are vested with original exclusive jurisdiction in custody cases, not in habeas corpus cases. The Court of Appeals (CA) and the Supreme Court (SC) had not been divested of their jurisdiction over habeas corpus cases involving custody of minors. This is the issue in the case discussed below.

Madrinan vs. Madrinan (G.R. 159374, July 12, 2007) - Digest

Facts:

Petitioner Felipe N. MadriƱan and respondent Francisca R. MadriƱan were married on July 7, 1993.Their union was blessed with three sons and a daughter. After a bitter quarrel, petitioner allegedly left their conjugal abode and took their three sons with him to Albay and subsequently to 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 the three sons in the CA, 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 subsequently filed his memorandum 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, it was respondent who left, taking their daughter with her. It was only then that he went to Laguna where he worked as a tricycle driver.

He also questioned the jurisdiction of the CA, claiming that under Section 5(b) of Republic Act (”RA”) No. 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.

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.

The CA rendered a decision 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 the two younger sons who were at that time aged six and four, respectively, subject to the visitation rights of petitioner. With respect to eldest son 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 CA decision but it was denied.

Issue:

Whether the CA had no jurisdiction to issue the writ of habeas corpus as jurisdiction over the case is lodged in the family courts under R.A. 8369.

Ruling:

RA 8369 did not divest the CA and the SC of their jurisdiction over habeas corpus cases involving custody of minors. The provisions of RA 8369 reveal no manifest intent to revoke the jurisdiction of the CA and the SC to issue said writ. Said law should be read in harmony with the provisions of RA 7092 (expanding the jurisdiction of the CA) and Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 (the “Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980″) — that family courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the CA and the SC in petitions for habeas corpus where the custody of minors is at issue. This is in fact affirmed by Administrative Circular 03-03-04-SC, dated April 22, 2004.

In this case, after petitioner moved out of their residence, he twice transferred his sons to provinces covered by different judicial regions. By giving the family courts exclusive jurisdiction over habeas corpus cases will result in an iniquitous situation leaving individuals like the respondent without legal recourse in obtaining custody of her 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. This lack of recourse could not have been the intention of RA 8369.

Moreover, under RA 8369, the 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 the family courts under said law pertain to the ancillary remedy that may be availed of in conjunction with the petition for custody of minors under Rule 99 of the Rules of Court.

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