Much earlier than the foundation of the Philippine as a country separated from other socio-cultural territories, the Church has been processing contentious and penal cases. She had long since a justice system made operative through ecclesiastical tribunals inspired by the early Roman law.
Church tribunals have substantive and procedural laws to follow, and the pursuant jurisprudence to observe—in the First Instance, in the Tribunal of Appeals up to the Third Instance as a kind of universal supreme court. The church in the Philippine has several tribunals of first instance and one national tribunal of appeals. For the third instance, recourse is made to Rome.
Marriage nullity pleas are the majority of the contentious cases handled by ecclesiastical tribunals of first instance in the country. This has reference to one or both parties in a de facto marriage claiming that their spousal union is null and void from its very start. Among the more interesting practices observed by Church tribunals when called upon to intervene in the resolution of a marriage nullity cases, are the following:
First: the competent tribunal looks into the cases for the possible reconciliation of the parties concerned. When this proved futile, it thereafter considers the prima facie merit of the case.
Second: in the absence of such apparently probably merit, the tribunal respectfully but firmly informs the party or parties that their marriage appears valid for all intents and purposes.
Third: in the presence of prima facie evidence in a case, the tribunal undertakes an evaluation thereof by a good amount of preliminary oral and documental inquiries. Only when the marriage appears to have the probability of nullity from its date of celebration is the case made subject of formal judicial process.
All de facto marriages enjoy the legal presumption of validity. All marriage nullity cases are tried by church tribunals behind closed doors. All tribunals have their respective judicial figure to defend the validity of de facto marriages. All marriage cases that receive decisions in favor of nullity must be reviewed by the National Tribunal of Appeals of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
By and large, it takes from one to three years for Church tribunals of first instance to process every marriage nullity case. As a rule it takes from three to six months for the Appellate Tribunal to pronounce on a case thereto sent for review.
3 November 2006