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DOROTHY B. TERRE v. ATTY. JORDAN TERREA.M. No. 2349 July 3, 1992 

            On December 24, 1981, complainant Dorothy B. Terre charged respondent Jordan Terre, a member of the Philippine Bar with "grossly immoral conduct," consisting of contracting a second marriage and living with another woman other than complainant, while his prior marriage with complainant remained subsisting.
            On April 24, 1985, Three years and a half, respondent still has not answered by evading notice from court by moving from one place to another, such that he could not be found nor reached in his alleged place of employment or residence. SC decided to suspend respondent from the practice of law until after he appears and/or files his answer to the complaint against him.
            On April 28, 1985, respondent finally answered via Answer with Motion to Set Aside/Lift Suspension. Stated the ff:
·         Petitioner Dorothy Terre was married to Merito Bercenilla 1968
·         Petitioner mockingly told him of her private meetings with Bercenilla and that child she was carrying then was the son of Bercenilla
·         That believing in good faith, Jordan Terre married Helina Malicdem believing that his first marriage is void ab initio.
            The SC denied petition of Atty. Terre.
·         On 26 February 1990, the Office of the Solicitor General submitted its "Report and Recommendation" to this Court. The Report summarized the testimony of the complainant in the following manner: Complainant Dorothy Terre took the witness stand and testified substantially as follows:
Ø  she and respondent met for the first time in 1979 as fourth year high school classmates in Cadiz City High School; she was then married to Merlito Bercenilla, while respondent was single; respondent was aware of her marital status; it was then that respondent started courting her but nothing happened of the courtship; they [complainant and respondent] moved to Manila were they respectively pursued their education, respondent as a law student at the Lyceum University; respondent continued courting her, this time with more persistence; she decided nothing would come of it since she was married but he [respondent] explained to her that their marriage was void ab initio since she and her first husband were first cousins; convinced by his explanation and having secured favorable advice from her mother and
Ø  ex-in-laws, she agreed to marry him [respondent]; in their marriage license, despite her [complainant's] objection, he [respondent] wrote "single" as her status explaining that since her marriage was void ab initio, there was no need to go to court to declare it as such; they were married before Judge Priscilla Mijares of the City Court of Manila on June 14, 1977; Jason Terre was born of their union on June 25, 1981; all through their married state up to the time he [respondent] disappeared in 1981, complainant supported respondent, in addition to the allowance the latter was getting from his parents; she was unaware of the reason for his disappearance until she found out later that respondent married a certain Vilma [sic] Malicdem; she then filed a case for abandonment of minor with the City Fiscal of Pasay City (ibid, p. 23) which was subsequently filed before Branch II of the City Court of Pasay City as Criminal Case No. 816159; she likewise filed a case for bigamy against respondent and Helina Malicdem with the office of the Provincial Fiscal of Pangasinan, where a prima facie case was found to; additionally, complainant filed an administrative case against respondent with the Commission on Audit where he was employed, which case however was considered closed for being moot and academic when respondent was considered automatically separated from the service for having gone on absence without official leave.

            Whether or not a judicial declaration of nullity is needed to enter into a subsequent marriage


            Yes, The Court considers the claim on the part of respondent Jordan Terre as a spurious defense. In the first place, respondent has not rebutted complainant's evidence as to the basic facts which underscores the bad faith of respondent Terre. In the second place, that pretended defense is the same argument by which he had inveigled complainant into believing that her prior marriage to Merlito A. Bercenilla being incestuous and void ab initio (Dorothy and Merlito being allegedly first cousins to each other), she was free to contract a second marriage with the respondent.
Respondent Jordan Terre, being a lawyer, knew or should have known that such an argument ran counter to the prevailing case law of this Court which holds that for purposes of determining whether a person is legally free to contract a second marriage, a judicial declaration that the first marriage was null and void ab initio is essential. Even if we were to assume, arguendo merely, that Jordan Terre held that mistaken belief in good faith, the same result will follow. For if we are to hold Jordan Terre to his own argument, his first marriage to complainant Dorothy Terre must be deemed valid, with the result that his second marriage to Helina Malicdem must be regarded as bigamous and criminal in character.

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