Friday, March 2, 2012

Sombong v CA G.R. No. 111876. January 31, 1996

J. Hermosisma Jr.

Petitioner was the mother of Arabella O. Sombong who was born on April 23, 1987 in Taguig, Metro Manila. Sometime in November, 1987, Arabella, then only six months old, was brought to the Sir John Clinic, owned by Ty located at Caloocan City, for treatment. Petitioner did not have enough money to pay the hospital bill in the balance of P300.00. Arabella could not be discharged as a result.
Petitioner said that she paid 1,700 for the release even if the bill was only 300. The spouses Ty, who had custody of the daughter, would not give Arabella to her.
Petitioner filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City for the issuance of a Writ of Habeas Corpus against the spouses Ty. She alleged that Arabella was being unlawfully detained and imprisoned at the Ty residence. The petition was denied due course and summarily dismissed, without prejudice, on the ground of lack of jurisdiction given that the detention was in Caloocan.
Ty claimed that Arabella was with them for some time, but given to someone who claimed to be their guardian.
The Office of the City Prosecutor of Kalookan City, on the basis of petitioner’s complaint, filed an information against the spouses Ty for Kidnapping and Illegal Detention of a Minor before the Regional Trial Court of Kalookan City. Ty then revealed that the child may be found in quezon city. When Sombong reached the residence, a small girl named Christina Grace Neri was found. Sombong claimed the child to be hers even if she wasn’t entirely sure that it was Arabella.
On October 13, 1992, petitioner filed a petition for the issuance of a Writ of Habeas Corpus with the Regional Trial Court. The court ruled in Sombong’s favor and ordered the respondents to deliver the child.
The Appellate Court took cognizance of the following issues raised by respondent: (1) The propriety of the habeas corpus proceeding vis-a-vis the problem respecting the identity of the child subject of said proceeding; (2) If indeed petitioner be the mother of the child in question, what the effect would proof of abandonment be under the circumstances of the case; and (3) Will the question of the child’s welfare be the paramount consideration in this case which involves child custody.
The TC decision was reversed. Hence, this petition.

Issue: Is habeas corpus the proper remedy for taking back Arabella?

Held: Yes but requisites not met. Petition dismissed.

In general, the purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to determine whether or not a particular person is legally held. A prime specification of an application for a writ of habeas corpus, in fact, is an actual and effective, and not merely nominal or moral, illegal restraint of liberty. “The writ of habeas corpus was devised and exists as a speedy and effectual remedy to relieve persons from unlawful restraint, and as the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom. A prime specification of an application for a writ of habeas corpus is restraint of liberty. The essential object and purpose of the writ of habeas corpus is to inquire into all manner of involuntary restraint as distinguished from voluntary, and to relieve a person therefrom if such restraint is illegal. Any restraint which will preclude freedom of action is sufficient.
To justify the grant of the writ of habeas corpus, the restraint of liberty must be in the nature of an illegal and involuntary deprivation of freedom of action. This is the basic requisite under the first part of Section 1, Rule 102, of the Revised Rules of Court, which provides that “except as otherwise expressly provided by law, the writ of habeas corpus shall extend to all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty.”
In the second part of the same provision, however, Habeas Corpus may be resorted to in cases where “the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled thereto.” Thus, although the Writ of Habeas Corpus ought not to be issued if the restraint is voluntary, we have held time and again that the said writ is the proper legal remedy to enable parents to regain the custody of a minor child even if the latter be in the custody of a third person of her own free will.
It may even be said that in custody cases involving minors, the question of illegal and involuntary restraint of liberty is not the underlying rationale for the availability of the writ as a remedy; rather, the writ of habeas corpus is prosecuted for the purpose of determining the right of custody over a child.
The foregoing principles considered, the grant of the writ in the instant case will all depend on the concurrence of the following requisites: (1) that the petitioner has the right of custody over the minor; (2) that the rightful custody of the minor is being withheld from the petitioner by the respondent; and (3) that it is to the best interest of the minor concerned to be in the custody of petitioner and not that of the respondent.
1. The evidence adduced before the trial court does not warrant the conclusion that Arabella is the same person as Cristina. It will be remembered that, in habeas corpus proceedings, the question of identity is relevant and material, subject to the usual presumptions including those as to identity of person.
The ponente noticed that there was no show of emotion on the mother when she met her lost daughter.
Evidence must necessarily be adduced to prove that two persons, initially thought of to be distinct and separate from each other, are indeed one and the same. The process is both logical and analytical.
In the instant case, the testimonial and circumstantial proof establishes the individual and separate existence of petitioner’s child, Arabella, from that of private respondents’ foster child, Cristina. According to one witness, there were several babies left in the clinic and it wasn’t certain if Arabella was given to the petitioner.
2. Petitioner has not been established by evidence to be entitled to the custody of the minor Cristina on account of mistaken identity, it cannot be said that private respondents are unlawfully withholding from petitioner the rightful custody over Cristina. Moreover, the way the respondents obtained custody isn’t material to the habeas corpus issue.
3. Private respondents are financially, physically and spiritually in a better position to take care of the child, Cristina. They have the best interest of Cristina at heart. On the other hand, it is not to the best interest of the minor, Cristina, to be placed in the custody of petitioner due top her lack of a stable job and her separation from a married man.

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