When is a man a man and when is a woman a woman? Does the law recognize the changes made by a physician using scalpel, drugs and counseling with regard to a person’s sex?
In particular, may a person successfully petition for a change of sex appearing in the birth certificate to reflect the result of a sex reassignment surgery?
These questions were answered by the Supreme Court in the case of Silverio vs. RP, G.R. No. 174689, 22 October 2007.
On 26 November 2002, 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.
He alleged that he is s 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. Feeling trapped in a man’s 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 surgery in Bangkok, Thailand.
From then on, he 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.”
On June 4, 2003, the trial court rendered a decision in favor of petitioner. Its dispositive portion reads:
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 petitioner’s first name from “Rommel Jacinto” to MELY and petitioner’s gender from “Male” to FEMALE.
On August 18, 2003, the Republic of the Philippines (Republic), thru the OSG, filed a petition for certiorari in the Court of Appeals. 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 Appeals rendered a decision] in favor of the Republic. It ruled that the trial court’s 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. Rommel moved for reconsideration but it was denied. Hence, he elevated the case to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court Ruling
The determination of a person’s sex appearing in his birth certificate is a legal issue and the court must look to the statutes. 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. Rule 108 now applies only to substantial changes and corrections in entries in the civil register.
Section 2(c) of RA 9048 defines what a “clerical or typographical error” is:
SECTION 2. Definition of Terms. – As used in this Act, the following terms shall mean:
(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:
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. 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.” 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.
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 status… 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.
A person’s sex is an essential factor in marriage and family relations. It is a part of a person’s 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 petitioner’s cause.
Moreover, Section 5 of Act 3753 (the Civil Register Law) provides:
SEC. 5. Registration and certification of births. – 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.
Under the Civil Register Law, a birth certificate is a historical record of the facts as they existed at the time of birth. 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 person’s sex made at the time of his or her birth, if not attended by error, is immutable.
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” or “the distinction between male and female.” Female is “the sex that produces ova or bears young” and male is “the sex that has organs to produce spermatozoa for fertilizing ova.” 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.” 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.