Almost everything is going virtual due to Covid-19. During this pandemic, social gatherings have been prohibited or discouraged. Work, businesses, social life, and others have been gravely affected. But thanks to technology, meetings, gatherings, work, etc., have become possible through the internet. Some people work from home, meetings are carried out through Zoom or other apps, and other business take advantage of on-line selling schemes. Even plants and flowers are now being sold on-line. Without the internet or mobile phones, our lives during the lock down or quarantine would be unbearable. Our Sangguniang Bayan of the Municipality of Bokod, upon realising the need to still meet for our regular sessions, came up with an amendment on our internal rules. As early as April 2020, our internal rules allows for the possibility of conducting our regular sessions through video conferencing in case some members are unable to attend physically due to medical reasons or physical impossibility of travelling to the designated session hall. Other sanggunians also did the same and the house of representatives and the senate also allowed attendance through video conference. Our courts also had no choice but to allow hearings to be conducted virtually. And so it seems, most things can now be done virtually. But a curious mind asked the question, can marriages be done virtually or through video conferencing?
Article 3 of the Family Code
The article provides: “The formal requisites of marriage are: … (3) A marriage ceremony which takes place with the appearance of the contracting parties before the solemnizing officer and their personal declaration that they take each other as husband and wife in the presence of not less than two witnesses of legal age.” There are four important elements here: a. marriage ceremony; b. appearance before the solemnizing officer, c. personal declaration; and c. witnesses. It should be recalled that the Family Code was enacted through an Executive Order by then President Corazon Aquino in 1988 during the infancy of the internet and mobile communication. It can be presumed that the president back then did not anticipate a situation where video conferencing would be possible. Although no case has reached the Supreme Court on this question yet, it would be safe for us to say that a virtual marriage is not legally possible even with the technology available to us today. It would require an amendment of the provisions of Article 3 for virtual marriage to be legally allowed. Marriage is such a special union that any defect on the consent of the parties cannot be allowed. There are many possibilities during the conduct of a virtual marriage: the view is limited by the camera that it could not be ascertained if the contracting party is being forced to give his consent to the marriage with guns pointed at him or her. The identity of the parties has to be established also and even with our technology today, the video quality can sometimes become very poor that we cannot be entirely sure of the identity of the person.
Although this question is now merely for academic discussion, since marriage ceremonies are already allowed, it might be a good point for our lawmakers to ponder upon. Our technology is fast developing and many of our laws are now being left behind. Hopefully, this pandemic will give birth to amendments and new laws that can keep up with technology.