Mother’s surname may be used by legitimate children, says Supreme Court

On the basis of Constitutional provisions on equality of women and men under the law, the Philippine Supreme Court in a recent landmark case expressly allowed a petitioner to use the surname of his mother even if he is born as a legitimate child.

The petitioner initiated the case for change of first name from “Anacleto” to “Abduhalmid”, and surname from “Alanis” to “Ballaho”. He was motivated by the fact that he was single-handedly raised by his mother.

The lower courts, Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals, denied the petition. On further appeal, the Supreme Court granted the petition.

The lower courts denied the application following these provisions in the Family Code and Civil Code:

“ARTICLE 174. Legitimate children shall have the right: (1) To bear the surnames of the father and the mother, in conformity with the provisions of the Civil Code on Surnames[.]” (Family Code)

“ARTICLE 364. “Legitimate and legitimated children shall principally use the surname of the father.” (Civil Code)

In overturning the lower courts, the Supreme Court ruled: “The Regional Trial Court’s application of Article 364 of the Civil Code is incorrect. Indeed, the provision states that legitimate children shall ‘principally’ use the surname of the father, but ‘principally’ does not mean ‘exclusively.'”

The high tribunal took notice of the lower court’s patriarchal reasoning.

“Patriarchy becomes encoded in our culture when it is normalized. The more it pervades our culture, the more its chances to infect this and future generations.”

“The trial court’s reasoning further encoded patriarchy into our system. If a surname is significant for identifying a person’s ancestry, interpreting the laws to mean that a marital child’s surname must identify only the paternal line renders the mother and her family invisible.”

“This, in turn, entrenches the patriarchy and with it, antiquated gender roles: the father, as dominant, in public; and the mother, as a supporter, in private.”