By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
The celebration of International Women’s Day this year appears to be more than a mere twenty-four-hour affair-it is proving to be a reinvigorated struggle for equality that reverberates around the world.
China woke up to the shocking news that a divorce court ordered a husband to pay $7,700 to his wife as compensation for household chores she devoted during their five-year marriage. In Europe, courts in divorce proceedings are summoning expert evidence to put a price tag on the wife’s efforts in the upkeep of the home.
The trend is an eye-opener.
In societies like the Philippines where patriarchy is entrenched, misogynistic tendencies pervade. Harking back to the 1818 ruling of the US Supreme Court in Griswold v. Penniman where it was held that “x x x the husband, by marriage, acquires a right to the use of the real property of his wife, during her life… He acquires an absolute right to her chattels real, and may dispose of them… He acquires an absolute property in her chattels personal in possession” (p. 301 A March to Liberty, A Constitutional History of the United States, by Urofsky, Knopf, New York), it behooves us to reckon how far we’ve progressed more than two centuries after.
Late last year, speaking through Justice Leonen, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that a legitimate child is not forever bound to use the surname only of his father, but he can choose to change it to that of his mother’s, thus:
“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.” (Anacleto Ballaho Alanis III v. Court of Appeals et al., G.R. No. 216425. November 11, 2020).
This decision augurs well for the once considered elusive goal of putting women on equal footing with men.
And it is not only in jurisprudential-trending but also in lawmaking that the paradigm of the age-old “battle of the sexes” is becoming more of an even, level or fair field. The law had made great strides in consciously improving on the rights of the wife in regard to her properties.
Under the New Family Code which took effect in 1988, for instance, property relations between the spouses shall be governed by a mandatory regime of “Absolute Community Property” (ie, all of the properties of the spouses at the time of marriage are commingled) when they have failed to come up with a marriage settlement that stipulates otherwise. This means that what the husband owns will become the wife’s and vice-versa. Thus, under Article 92 of the Family Code it states that: “Art. 91. Unless otherwise provided in this Chapter or in the marriage settlements, the community property shall consist of all the property owned by the spouses at the time of the celebration of the marriage or acquired thereafter.”
In turn, the only excluded properties are listed in Article 92 which provides that: “Art. 92. The following shall be excluded from the community property:
(1) Property acquired during the marriage by gratuitous title by either spouse, and the fruits as well as the income thereof, if any, unless it is expressly provided by the donor, testator or grantor that they shall form part of the community property;
(2) Property for personal and exclusive use of either spouse. However, jewelry shall form part of the community property;
(3) Property acquired before the marriage by either spouse who has legitimate descendants by a former marriage, and the fruits as well as the income, if any, of such property.”
While as to those not clearly excluded from the absolute community property regime, they are deemed as part of common property, viz:
“Art. 93. Property acquired during the marriage is presumed to belong to the community, unless it is proved that it is one of those excluded therefrom.”
And not only is fair treatment between the spouses applicable to legally married couples but even to those merely cohabiting (“on live-in status”) without the benefit of marriage, or under a void marriage. The parties to relationships of this kind are also equal in the eyes of the law because the party who merely stays at home to maintain the household gets an equal share in the properties once the cohabitation is terminated. Thus, under Article 147 of the Family Code, it mandates that:
“Art. 147. When a man and a woman who are capacitated to marry each other, live exclusively with each other as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage or under a void marriage, their wages and salaries shall be owned by them in equal shares and the property acquired by both of them through their work or industry shall be governed by the rules on co-ownership.
In the absence of proof to the contrary, properties acquired while they lived together shall be presumed to have been obtained by their joint efforts, work or industry, and shall be owned by them in equal shares. For purposes of this Article, a party who did not participate in the acquisition by the other party of any property shall be deemed to have contributed jointly in the acquisition thereof if the former’s efforts consisted in the care and maintenance of the family and of the household. X x x.
The recent protracted stay-at-home orders on account of the pandemic had hemmed families in their homes. The traditional respective roles of the father being the breadwinner outside of the house and the mother doing household errands had been wiped away by their joint-efforts in running the household. If any, the ennui that the lockdown had brought made everybody realize that keeping the home intact is not the role of either gender, but both.
As parents rearing their children, they are, according to Khalil Gibran in “The Prophet”, “the bow from which their children are set forth”. The children will be propelled to that much better future that is made possible by a stable and secure household not established by competition, but borne of the mutual willingness to make the house a home and keep it that way.
(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates- a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a law book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).