Battle of the bastards

Season 8 of the hit television series Game of Thrones (GoT) is here. Fans like me have bittersweet feelings. We’ve waited for almost a year for this final season. The end is coming.

I write this column inspired by my favorite series in light of the rights of illegitimate children (or bastards). In the Philippines, unlike in medieval GoT, illegitimate children have more legal rights. The term “bastard” refers to anyone born out of wedlock. Such status comes with a very negative social stigma. Gone are the days, however, when we refer to these children as bastards. Now, a child who is born of parents who are not married or those born out of wedlock are legally referred to as “illegitimate children.” The Family Code of the Philippines provides that children conceived and born outside a valid marriage are illegitimate, unless otherwise provided by the law.

An illegitimate child can either be unrecognized or recognized. An illegitimate child who is not acknowledged by the biological father has to use the surname of the mother. An illegitimate child acknowledged by the father through the record of birth, an admission in a public instrument or an admission made in a private handwritten instrument is allowed to use the surname of the father. In GoT, bastard children’s surnames are dependent on the region where a child was born, particularly from where the mother is from and not the father. An illegitimate child born from a mother from The North uses the surname “Snow,” while one born in Dorne uses the surname “Sand.”

In the GoT series, bastards  are not allowed to inherit their father’s lands or titles and have no claims to the privileges of their families or houses. In the Philippines today, illegitimate children are entitled to support from the natural parents. If the child is recognized, the father is obliged to provide support. In the case of an unrecognized illegitimate child, the relationship between the father and child must be proved. If paternity is proven, then the child is entitled and may ask for support from the father.

Support, under Philippine laws, comprises of everything indispensable for sustenance, dwelling, clothing, medical attendance, education and transportation in keeping with the financial capacity of the family. The amount of support depends on the resources or financial capacity of the family and the indispensable needs of the recipient.

Now supposing that a person, a father, dies and leaves a spouse, a legitimate child and an illegitimate child from another mother. What will be the shares of the surviving heirs? In the absence of a valid will, legal or intestate succession shall take place. The whole estate shall be inherited by heirs where the surviving spouse shall get the same share as one legitimate child. The illegitimate child shall get one-half the share of the legitimate child.

In the absence of legitimate descendants or ascendants, the illegitimate children shall succeed to the entire estate of the deceased. Also, the law provides that an illegitimate child has no right to inherit from the legitimate children and relatives of his father or mother; nor shall such children or relatives inherit in the same manner from the illegitimate child. This legal barrier prevents successional reciprocity between legitimate and illegitimate heirs.

Parental belongs to the mother. Custody likewise belongs to the mother to the exclusion of even the biological father. In the Philippines, no child — legitimate or illegitimate below seven years of age — shall be separated from the mother, unless the latter is deemed legally unfit.

The illegitimate status of children may also be changed by legitimation. Legitimation occurs when the parents of children born out of wedlock are married, provided that there are no legal impediments to marry each other. Thereafter, the rights of legitimated children shall be the same as that of legitimate children. The effects of legitimation retroact to the time of the child’s birth.

As far as successional rights are concerned, illegitimate children are entitled to inherit from both parents. Their status is not an impediment for them to receive a share in their parents’ bounty. In fact, they are entitled to one half the inheritance or legitime of a legitimate child. In case the claim is against a father brought by an unrecognized illegitimate child, paternity and filiation must first be proved.

While the status of being illegitimate in the novels A Song of Fire and Ice  and TV series carries with it social disgrace, modern-day society is kinder to children born out of wedlock. Giving some concessions or favorable treatment to illegitimate children, however, do not in any way mean that our laws consent to or promote improper or immoral behavior. Our laws try to protect those who need it most. Children should not suffer from the indiscretions or sins of their parents.

No less than the Philippine Constitution recognizes the sanctity of the family as a basic social institution. Public policy cherishes and protects family life. Family relations are governed by law and no custom, practice or agreement destructive of the family shall be recognized or given effect. The law still recognizes that illegitimate children exist as a matter of social reality and it vests in them legal rights for their protection recognition that it is unjust and illogical to punish the child for the irresponsibility or wrongdoings of the parents.

Now you know something, Jon Snow.