Leouel Santos, Sr. vs. Court of Appeals, et al., G.R. No. 113054, March 16, 1995

Father and child


Petitioner Leouel Santos, Sr., an army lieutenant, and Julia Bedia, a nurse by profession, were married in Iloilo City in 1986. Their union beget only one child, Leouel Santos, Jr., who was born July 18, 1987.

From the time the boy was released from the hospital until sometime thereafter, he had been in the care and custody of his maternal grandparents, Leopoldo and Ofelia Bedia (Spouses Bedia), who paid for all the hospital bills and subsequent support of the boy.

In May 1988, Julia left for the United States to work. Since then, Petitioner had not been able to locate her. Spouses Bedia, however, allege that Julia had been sending financial support for her son.

On September 2, 1990, Petitioner along with his two brothers, visited the Bedia household, where 3-year old Leouel Jr. was staying, and took the boy back to his hometown in Bacong, Negros Oriental. The spouses Bedia then filed a “Petition for Care, Custody and Control of Minor Ward Leouel Santos, Jr.” before the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo City, with Santos Sr. as respondent.

The trial court ruled in favor of the Spouses Bedia and awarded them custody of the child. This was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Hence, this petition.




The father, being the natural guardian of the child, has the right to custody over the child.

Right of custody of parents and parental authority

The right of custody accorded to parents springs from the exercise of parental authority. Parental authority or patria potestas in Roman Law is the juridical institution whereby parents rightfully assume control and protection of their unemancipated children to the extent required by the latter’s needs. It is a mass of rights and obligations which the law grants to parents for the purpose of the children’s physical preservation and development, as well as the cultivation of their intellect and the education of their heart and senses. As regards parental authority, “there is no power, but a task; no complex of rights, but a sum of duties; no sovereignty but a sacred trust for the welfare of the minor.”

Parental authority is inalienable and purely personal; when waiver is allowed by law

Parental authority and responsibility are inalienable and may not be transferred or renounced except in cases authorized by law. The right attached to parental authority, being purely personal, the law allows a waiver of parental authority in cases of adoption, guardianship and surrender to a children’s home or an orphan institution. When a parent entrusts the custody of a minor to another, such as a friend or godfather, even in a document, what is given is merely temporary custody and it does not constitute a renunciation of parental authority. Even if a definite renunciation is manifest, the law still disallows the same.

ONLY in case of absence, death or unsuitability of both parents may substitute parental authority of grandparents be exercised.

The father and mother, being the natural guardians of unemancipated children, are duty-bound and entitled to keep them in their custody and company. The child’s welfare is always the paramount consideration in all questions concerning his care and custody.

The law vests on the father and mother joint parental authority over the persons of their common children. In case of absence or death of either parent, the parent present shall continue exercising parental authority. Only in case of the parents’ death, absence or unsuitability may substitute parental authority be exercised by the surviving grandparent. The situation obtaining in the case at bench is one where the mother of the minor Santos, Jr. is working in the United States while the father, petitioner Santos, Sr., is present. Not only are they physically apart but are also emotionally separated. There has been no decree of legal separation and petitioner’s attempt to obtain an annulment of the marriage on the ground of psychological incapacity of his wife has failed.

Grandparents’ wealth is not a deciding factor

The Court found (the fact that the grandparents are financially well-off and that petitioner never gave any previous financial support) insufficient to defeat petitioner’s parental authority and the concomitant right to have custody over the minor Leouel Santos, Jr., particularly since he has not been shown to be an unsuitable and unfit parent. Private respondents’ demonstrated love and affection for the boy, notwithstanding, the legitimate father is still preferred over the grandparents. The latter’s wealth is not a deciding factor, particularly because there is no proof that at the present time, petitioner is in no position to support the boy. The fact that he was unable to provide financial support for his minor son from birth up to over three years when he took the boy from his in-laws without permission, should not be sufficient reason to strip him of his permanent right to the child’s custody. While petitioner’s previous inattention is inexcusable and merits only the severest criticism, it cannot be construed as abandonment. His appeal of the unfavorable decision against him and his efforts to keep his only child in his custody may be regarded as serious efforts to rectify his past misdeeds. To award him custody would help enhance the bond between parent and son. It would also give the father a chance to prove his love for his son and for the son to experience the warmth and support which a father can give.

Petitioner’s being a soldier and employment of trickery in taking the boy is no bar to allow him custody

His being a soldier is likewise no bar to allowing him custody over the boy. So many men in uniform who are assigned to different parts of the country in the service of the nation, are still the natural guardians of their children. It is not just to deprive our soldiers of authority, care and custody over their children merely because of the normal consequences of their duties and assignments, such as temporary separation from their families.

Petitioner’s employment of trickery in spiriting away his boy from his in-laws, though unjustifiable, is likewise not a ground to wrest custody from him.

Parent’s natural love outweighs that of the grandparents

Private respondents’ attachment to the young boy whom they have reared for the past three years is understandable. Still and all, the law considers the natural love of a parent to outweigh that of the grandparents, such that only when the parent present is shown to be unfit or unsuitable may the grandparents exercise substitute parental authority, a fact which has not been proven here.

The strong bonds of love and affection possessed by private respondents as grandparents should not be seen as incompatible with petitioner’s right to custody over the child as a father. Moreover, who is to say whether the petitioner’s financial standing may improve?

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