In the recently decided case of Anacleto Ballaho Alanis III Vs. Court of Appeals, Cagayan de Oro City, and Hon. Gregorio Y. De La Peña III, Presiding Judge Br. 12, Regional Trial Court Zamboanga City, November 11, 2020, the Court held that legitimate children can use their mother’s surname pursuant to the fundamental equality of women and men before the law. This gender equality is also guaranteed by no less than the Philippine Constitution. The Philippines is also a signatory to an international convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and is thus now part of the Philippine legal system. As a state party to the Convention, the Philippines bound itself to the following:
(f) to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women;
(a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or stereotyped roles for men and women.
Non-discrimination against women is also an emerging customary norm. Thus, the State has the duty to actively modify what is in its power to modify, to ensure that women are not discriminated.Article II,
Section 14 of the 1987 Constitution reiterated the State’s commitment to ensure gender equality:
SECTION 14. The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men.
In this case, Anacleto Ballaho Alanis Ill’s wished to remove his father’s surname “Alanis III,” and instead use his mother’s maiden name “Ballaho,” as it was what he has been using since childhood and indicated in his school records. He likewise wished to change his first name from “Anacleto” to “Abdulhamid” for the same reasons.
The lower Court denied the petitioner’s prayer to change his surname as he should principally use the surname of his father Alanis III invoking Art. 364 of the Civil Code. But the word “principally” as used in the codal-provision is not equivalent to “exclusively” so that there is no legal obstacle if a legitimate or legitimated child should choose to use the surname of its mother to which it is equally entitled. According to the Court, the Regional Trial Court patently erred in denying petitioner’s prayer to use his mother’s surname, based solely on the word “principally” in Article 364 of the Civil Code.