The month of March is globally celebrated as women’s month in recognition of their contribution to a better world, humanity and brighter future. It became a venue to highlight their achievements, empowerment and gender equality issues. In the Philippines, it started in 1988 when our first woman President Corazon C. Aquino issued Proclamation No. 224 and passed Republic Act 6949 making March 8 of every year a working special holiday as National Women’s Day.
The fundamental equality of women and men in the eyes of the law has been guaranteed by the highest law of the land. Under Section 14, Article II of the 1987 Constitution: the State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men. Thus, laws were passed to protect women against abuses: Republic Act 7877 – Anti-Sexual Harassment Law of 1995; R.A. 9262 – Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law of 2004; R.A. 11313 – Safe Spaces or Anti-Bastos Law of 2019 and R.A. 7192 – Women in Development and Nation Building Law.
There are also Supreme Court decisions upholding the fundamental equality between women and men before the law. One such case involves the use of the surname of the mother instead of the father as his last name. The law on the matter is Article 174 of the Family Code, which provides that legitimate children shall have the right:  to bear the surnames of the father and the mother, in conformity with the provisions of the Civil Code on Surnames. In turn, Article 364 of the Civil Code provides: Legitimate and legitimated children shall principally use the surname of the father. As a consequence, it has become customary to use and follow the father’s surname as our last name and not the mother’s name. Now, may a legitimate child change the surname in his birth certificate and use as his last name the surname of his mother instead of his father?
The facts in the landmark case of Alanis v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 216425, 11 November 2020 stemmed from a petition filed by Anacleto Ballaho Alanis III, who sought to change the name appearing on his birth certificate to “Abdulhamid Ballaho,” a name using his mother’s maiden name. He alleged that his parents had separated when he was five years old, and that it was his mother who had single-handedly raised him and his siblings. As such, all of his school records and other government-issued documents indicate his name as “Abdulhamid Ballaho.” The formal adoption of that name and change in his birth certificate would avoid confusion. The Regional Trial Court denied his petition on the ground that it will actually create, rather than avoid, confusion since changing the name appearing on his birth certificate would “trigger much deeper inquiries regarding his parentage and/or paternity,” considering his status as a legitimate child of a technically subsisting marriage. Instead of seeking to change his name in his birth certificate, he should have had the other private and public records corrected to conform to his true and correct name. The RTC decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental equality of women and men before the law shall be ensured by the State. In 1980, the Philippines became a signatory to the CEDAW – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Non-discrimination against women is also an emerging customary norm. The State has the duty to actively modify what is in its power to modify, to ensure that women are not discriminated. In keeping with the Convention and the constitutional equal protection clause provides that any legal burden or benefit that is given to men must also be given to women. Article II, Section 14 of the Constitution implies the State’s positive duty to actively dismantle the existing patriarchy by addressing the culture that supports it. R.A. 7192 Women in Development and Nation Building Act recognizes the role of women in nation building and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men. Courts must ensure the fundamental equality of women and men before the law. Thus, where the text of a law allows for an interpretation that treats women and men more equally, that is the correct interpretation. The RTC gravely erred when it held that legitimate children cannot use their mothers’ surnames. This is an unequal treatment. Its reasoning is contrary to the spirit and mandate of the Constitution and R.A. 7192. which all require that the State take the appropriate measures to ensure the fundamental equality of women and men before the law.