pop The Law of Marriage in the
Philippines around 1900

  When the Americans took over the Philippines from the Spaniards, they had to consider the law of marriage. Should the law be changed or not? The following notes are from the Report of the Philippine Commission to the President. Vol. I. 1901, pp. 138- 141.

The Law of Marriage
The question of the validity of marriages performed by other persons than the parish priests has been much discussed in the Philippines. There have been mayn marriages of American citizens between themselves and of Americans to Spanish and Filipino women. The subject is if vast importance, involving, as it does, the legitimacy of issue and the validity of marriage. The law of marriage in the Philippines is a canonical law and nothing else. When a man wishes to get married he goes to the parish priest and the parish priest examines the woman and finds out whether she wishes to marry the man and what her race is - whether Spanish, Mestizo, Chinese, or any other - and then ascertains whether the fathers of both parties are willing that the marriage should be solemnized. The law which is in force in Spain and also in the Philippines in regard to marriages of natives, Spaniards, and Spanish half- castes, is that they can not marry without the consent of their parents or family unless they are 23 years of age; but this is not true in the case of Chinese Mestizos, who can marry at the age of 16 without the family's consent. This applies to both sexes. This privilege of the Mestizo Chinese, which was granted by the Pope had this object in view: The increase of this race, which is the race considered to be the most industrious. The priest then finds out if there is any impediment to the marriage and if he finds none he calls the banns openly in the church for three Sundays, and if no one makes any objection to the marriage the contractants are allowed to marry on the day following the third Sunday.

On the day for the wedding they take two witnesses, a man and a woman, who go to the church with them, and the priest reads a portion of the Scriptures and makes a short address, giving advice, and inquires of the witnesses if there is any objection to the marriage, and if there is none the ceremony is performed. The ceremony is usually performed just before mass, and the groom pays the fee both for the marriage and the masswhich follows. This money all goes to the church and not to the state. There is no license required. The state does not intervene in the matter at all. The marriage is purely under canonical law. An entry is then made by the parish priest or his deputy in the parish register and signed by the witnesses, and whenever a copy is taken from it such copy is an official document. There is no civil marriage in addition to the canonical marriage.

In 1889 the Civil code was published in the Philippines, and the people immediately began, after having been married in the church, to have a civil marriage performed. This did not please the clergy, and they used influence with the Colonial Minister and had him suspend the operation of the civil law in the Philippines. The civil law provided for two marriages, one in the church and one before a justice of the peace, but the marriage before the justice of the peace was not a true civil marriage, it was nothing more than a registration in the presence of a judge.

If the Spanish law is to be adopted the law of 1869 should be retained. That is a law of liberty in religion with refernce to marriage, and under that law marriages could be performed without inconvenience to any believers in the different creeds or religious sects which prevail in the Philippines. It is understood now that the parish priests will not marry anyone except Catholics.Protestants would have to be married by a Protestant clergyman. As the civil code is not in force ther is no existing law under which a Protestant clergyman can perform the ceremony of marriage. There is no legal mode by which Protestants can enter into the marriage relation. We inquired whether if a man took a woman and lived with her as his wife, had children by her, introduced her into society as his wife for a number of years publicly, the courts would hold that such circumstances made her a lawful wife. We were told that society might accept such a woman as a lawful wife, but in case any question arose in the courts they would not consider her to be his wife unless she could produce a copy of the parish register as above stated, and she would not have any civil rights regarding the property of the man with whom she had lived. It is therefore a matter of great urgency that regulations should be put in force by the military authorities, if they have the legal right to do so, which is not doubted, providing for the performance of the ceremony of marriage. In the United States generally marriage may be performed by every justice of the peace, every judge of a court, and every minister of the gospel of any church. a license must first be procured from the county clerk.

The witnesses before us were asked what system they recommended for the Philippines. One of the most intelligent of them stated that it was his opinion that there should be practically established in the Philippines the law of 1869, prepared by Montero Rios. the reasons given for his preference for this law was that it treats all regions alike and does not give special privileges to the members of any church. By its terms persons who wish to be married shall give notice to the municipal judge of the district where they have their domicile. If both the contracting parties live in the same district they shall apply to the judge of that district, but if they live in two different districts they may apply to the judge of either district. This notice shall be given to the judge in writing in case both parties are able to write, and if not it may be signed by some other person. The judge then interrogates both parties in regard to this written notice which has been given, and if they both justify the written notice he shall publicely post on the doors of the court a notice of their marriage, which shall contain a clause asking all who know of any impediment to their marriage to bring it forward. This notice shall be put up twice for a term of eight days, in all sixteen days. If one of the contracting parties lives in another town or another province a copy of this notice shall be posted on the door of the court-house of the said town or province. If the contracting parties are foreigners or have not lived two years in the country they shall produce a certificate from the authorities of their own country showing that they are both single. In case one of the contracting parties is at the point of death these certificates shall not be necessary, but the marriage may take place at once without the necessary publication. In case of military men the certifications of the chief of the body to which they belong shall be sufficient. In case anyone raises objection to the marriage of either party for any cause whatever the person so raising the objection shall present a complaint, and this complaint shall be brought before the Promoter Fiscal of the court. The marriages shall be performed by the justice of the peace in the presence of two witnesses.

The justice of the peace or the municipal judge shall not perform the ceremony of marriage while any opposition to the marriage is pending. the ceremony shall not be performedd until the objection is investigated and either allowed or disallowed. The contradicting parties shall produce certificates of birth, and shall also, at the time of the marriage ceremony, produce certificates that no objection has been made to their marriage; and if they be minors they must also produce certificates of their fathers and mothers giving consent to the marriage. In case of orphans they must produce documents from their guardians or from their families cdertifying that they give consent to the marriage. If the notices of marriage are posted in the towns where the contradicting parties live, or in two separate towns, and six months pass without the marriage having taken place, the marriage shall not take place without a notice of marriage being posted for another sixteen days.

This law was never put into operation in the Philippines.

The process in force as the application of laws passed in Spain to the Philippines has been described to us as follows: The laws coming from Spain were some of them decrees passed in conjunction with the cabinet; others were laws dictated by the congress and the senate in Spain. When a law was passed in either of these ways the Colonial Minster ogt out a royal order, which he sent to the Governor-General at Manila with instructions to apply it to the Philippines. The Governor-General having received the law, if he saw fit, issued an order for its immediately taking effect, but if for any reason whatever he did not see fit put the law in force he wrote across the bottom that it should be published but should not be put in force, and it was then put in archives: and afterwards he sent a report and gave his reasons for not putting the law in force at once to the Colonial Minster.

It usually happened that when the Governor-General objected to putting the law in force nothing more was done with it. It so happened with regard to the law of 1889, and the parish priests continued to perform exclusively the marriage services. The action of the Governor-General in this particular case was taken at the instigation of the clergy. This inference of the clergy with the conduct of the Government was common.

The same course of action was taken with regard to the Penal Code, whis was suspended so far as it related to crimes committed by ecclesiastics. The question was referred to Madrid and the inquiry was made whether or not the Penal Code did apply to crimes committed by ecclesiastics, and up to the present time the question has never been answered.

It is perhaps unnecessary for us to express preference for any partiucular law regulating marriage. The law of Spain, of which we have given an outline, would suit the condition, habits, and customs of the Filipinos. Possibly, however, the ordinary marriage laws which prevail in most of our States would accomplish every desired purpose. It is understood that by an order of the military governor, issued at Manila in December, 1899, the text of which has not yet reached the Commission, suitable measures have been adopted.

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created: August 20, 1997
updated: August 20, 1997
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger