Silverio v. Philippines, First Division of the Philippines Supreme Court (22 October 2007)
The plaintiff filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court of Manila to change the first name and the sex on his birth certificate. No opposition was made to the petition. During the trial, the plaintiff presented the testimonies of his doctor, his fiancé, and himself. The trial court ruled in favour of the plaintiff. The Republic of the Philippines then appealed on the grounds that no law existed to allow sex to be altered on birth certificates in the Philippines. The Court of Appeals ruled in the government’s favour. The plaintiff then petitioned the Supreme Court claiming that a change of name and sex on the birth certificate was allowed under the Civil Code and the Rules of the Court.
The plaintiff stated that although he was registered male at birth, he had felt himself to be female since childhood. He consulted several doctors in the United States, and after extensive psychological examination he underwent hormone treatment, breast augmentation, and gender re-assignment surgery. For the petition, he had a Filipino doctor examine him, who issued a certificate confirming these facts. The plaintiff lived as a woman, was engaged to be married, and sought legal recognition as female and a new name, Mely.
Whether existing Philippine law allowed the plaintiff to have his petition for official name and sex change granted.
Civil Code of the Philippines, Articles 407, 408, and 412.
Civil Code Amendment RA 9048 (legislative amendment establishing guidelines for changing a first name, which originally required a judicial order unless a clerical or typographical error occurred, and allowing administrative officers to govern the process. Changes limited to instances where (1) the name was ridiculous, had a bad connotation, or was hard to pronounce/spell, (2) the new name was commonly used, and has been for an extended time, or (3) a name change would avoid confusion).
Rules of Court, Article 108 (procedure governing substantial changes to the registry).
Wang v. Cebu City Civil Registrar, G.R. No. 159966, Second Division of the Philippines Supreme Court, 2005.
K v. Health Division, Department of Human Resources, Supreme Court of Oregon, United States, 1977 (holding that it was reasonable to assume that the intent of the legislature was that a birth certificate was an historical record of the facts as they existed at the time of birth, subject to the specific exceptions of the statute; finding that the issue was one that should be decided by the legislature as a matter of public policy).
In re Ladrach, Probate Court of Stark County, Ohio, Unites States, 1987 (holding that a transgender woman could not obtain a marriage licence to marry a man).
In re Marriage License for Nash, Court of Appeals of Ohio, United States, 2003 (holding that the public policy in Ohio prohibited a transgender man from marrying a woman).
Standard Oil Co. v. United States, United States Supreme Court, 1911.
Reasoning of the Court
The Court began with a quotation from The Bible: Genesis; “He created them male and female”. The Court addressed the plaintiff’s petition to change his name based on his sex reassignment, as granted by the trial court. However, citing Wang v. Cebu City Civil Registrar, the Court held that changing one’s name was a privilege and not a right. Using K v. Health Division, a case from the United States, the Court also stated that name change was controlled by statute. It undertook a detailed analysis of the language of Civil Code Amendment RA 9048 and concluded that where sex reassignment was not explicitly listed as a ground for name change, granting the petition would increase confusion rather than reduce it. Furthermore, stated the Court, the plaintiff “failed to show, or even allege, any prejudice that he might suffer as a result of using his true and official name”.
In addition, the Court held that the plaintiff’s appeal to change his official sex could not be granted because it was not the result of a clerical or typographical error in the official documents, which were correct regarding the plaintiff’s sex at birth. Referring to In re Ladrach, the Court stated that it must look to the statutes, specifically Article 412 of the Civil Code, which specified that “no entry in the civil register shall be changed or corrected without a judicial order”. It found that sex reassignment was not among the legal acts or events mentioned in the governing law. The lack of statutory law regarding sex reassignment was fatal to the petition because “the determination of a person’s sex made at the time of his or her birth, if not attended by error, is immutable”.
Next, the Court noted that the legal meaning of male and female should be traditionally defined, and stated that transgender persons did not fit within those definitions. It held that the well-known meaning of a word at the time a statute was created should be presumed. Sex was not an alterable category and therefore a transgender woman was not “included in the category female”.
Finally, the Court disagreed with the trial court decision that to allow a name and sex change in the registry would cause no harm. Such a change would have legal and public policy consequences and could allow the plaintiff to marry a man, which it held would “substantially reconfigure and greatly alter the laws on marriage and family relations”.
The Court concluded that: “[t]he duty of the courts is to apply or interpret the law, not to make or amend it. In our system of government, it is for the legislature, should it choose to do so, to determine what guidelines should govern the recognition of the effects of sex reassignment.” In the case before the Court, where the issues were largely governed by statutes, the Court held that legislation first had to confer the right to change name and sex and had to establish the statutory guidelines for that right.
The Court found that change of name was not a judicial issue but an administrative one, and that there was no merit to the claim. It upheld the Court of Appeals’ decision to dismiss the petition. It denied the plaintiff’s request to have his sex altered on his birth certificate, because no specific law allowed sex to be altered in the government registry.
Silverio v. Philippines, First Division of the Philippines Supreme Court (full text of judment, PDF)