Can I be held liable for Bigamy?

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Can I be held liable for Bigamy? This is one of the most common questions that has been filling up our inbox for quite sometime now. One of the emails that we received partly reads:

I got married twice in the Philippines in 1990 and second in 1996, only that the second marriage was not registered intentionally. I took all the records of our marriage including the marriage contract from our minister but did not report it to the local civil registrars office. Me and my second wife went abroad and married here again in the U.S. There is no record of my second marriage in the local civil registrar or in the NSO. We are living in the United States until now.I am planning to take a vacation in the Philippines but worried that my first wife will file a bigamy case against me? Can I be held liable for bigamy? Please help.”

Bigamy is an illegal marriage committed by contracting a second or subsequent marriage before the first marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings. Simply saying, you cannot get married to another for the second time without legally terminating your first marriage. Of course, you can be held criminally liable for bigamy for having contracted a second marriage while your first marriage is still existing. The failure to record the second marriage in the local civil registrar is of no moment here because the second marriage can also be proven by the testimonies of persons who have personal knowledge of your second marriage. It can also be proven by the introduction of other evidence like photographs or videos other than the records in the local civil registrar or the National Statistics Office.

I remember we had a client who was accused for the crime of bigamy at the Regional Trial Court in Muntinlupa City. His first marriage was celebrated in Muntinlupa City and the second marriage was celebrated in Australia . The second marriage was also reported in the Philippine Embassy in Australia and subsequnetly, it was recorded in the NSO. The first wife filed a bigamy case upon knowledge of the second marriage and my client was immediately arrested at the NAIA upon his arrival. Right before arraignment, we filed a Motion to Quash the Information for Bigamy on the ground that the court has no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the offense. The second marriage was contracted outside the Philippine territory and the case does not fall under any of the exceptions enumerated in Article 2 of the Revised Penal Code. The RTC in Muntinlupa sustained our Motion and dismissed the case.

95% of the email inquiries that we received of this nature are coming from Overseas Filipino Workers. In my travels abroad, I have also observed that many OFWs are staying as live-in partners. Some of those who are cohabiting as OFWs are married and have families in the Philippines. Being away from their families and loved ones, and pressure of work in a foreign land also contribute to their distress. Sadly, due to growing migration brought about by the lack of employment opportunities locally, the number of broken Filipino families is on the rise.

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