March 4, 2021
The Supreme Court in its recent decision in the case of Alanis vs Court of Appeals [GR 2146425; November 11, 2020] clarified that legitimate children can now opt to use the surname of their mothers. As a rule, legitimate children shall principally use the surname of their fathers [Article 364 of the Civil Code]. This mandate is consistent with the state’s policy of protecting the rights of legitimate children and intertwined with the enjoyment of rights that legitimacy can bring such as, but not limited to, successional rights, right to support etc.
The case involves a petition of Mr. Anacleto Ballaho Alanis before the Regional Trial Court requesting to remove his father’s surname and instead use that of his mother’s. The request was by reason that most of his school records already reflected that of his mother’s surname. Yet the court dismissed the Petition arguing that by the clear command of Article 364 of the Civil Code, a legitimate child may not use the surname of his mother.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Court acknowledged that there exists a system of patriarchy to which the state must positively address in order to achieve equality between men and women. This obligation on the part of the state is duly engraved in the Constitution, statutes, as well as in the international conventions to which the Philippines is a party. Hence, it is the bounden duty of the state to ensure that women are not discriminated upon. This judgement of allowing legitimate children to use their mother’s surname is fully aligned with the emerging customary norm of non-discrimination of women.
The right of the legitimate child to use his mother’s surname is actually not novel in our jurisdiction. In this case of Alanis, the court reiterated its earlier ruling in Alfon vs Republic citing Haw Liong vs Republic, that the language of Article 364 of the Civil Code does not preclude a legitimate child to use the surname of his/her mother. The provision actually provides that a legitimate child shall “principally” use the surname of his father. It reasoned that “principally” does not mean “exclusively”. Provided there are reasonable causes and taking into consideration the best interests of the child, the choice to use the surname of the mother rests ultimately with the child.