This question comes up in some form from time to time because a divorce obtained abroad can be recognized in the Philippines.
For example, a Filipina marries a foreign citizen. She afterwards gets a new Philippine passport with her husband’s surname as her new last name.
But she and her foreign husband later divorce.
She now wants to go back to using her maiden name on her passport.
Can the Filipina simply apply for a new Philippine passport in which her maiden name is her surname?
No. Simply applying for a new passport from the Department of Foreign Affairs or a Philippine embassy is not enough. A court case is necessary before a divorced Filipina can change the name on her passport from her married to her maiden name.
This is because of Republic Act No. 8239. This law set certain conditions for the issuance of a passport:
d) In case of a woman who is married, separated, divorced or widowed or whose marriage has been annulled or declared by court as void, a copy of the certificate of marriage, court decree of separation, divorce or annulment or certificate of death of the deceased spouse duly issued and authenticated by the Office of the Civil Registrar General: Provided, That in case of a divorce decree, annulment or declaration of marriage as void, the woman applicant may revert to the use of her maiden name: Provided, further, That such divorce is recognized under existing laws of the Philippines;
It’s the last line that causes difficulty.
Recognition of foreign divorce is a judicial process in the Philippines. This means that a Filipina who was divorced abroad cannot revert to her maiden name on her passport without first going through this court process in the Philippines.
Recognition must be done through a Philippine court, not just through an embassy or the Department of Foreign Affairs.
[See this article from one Philippine embassy which likewise outlines the necessary steps for judicial recognition.]
This specific rule for passports is in contrast to the general rule that “a married woman has an option, but not a duty, to use the surname of the husband.”
In the case of Remo vs. Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Supreme Court upheld that general rule under Article 370 of the Civil Code, saying that a woman “is not prohibited from continuously using her maiden name once she is married because when a woman marries, she does not change her name but only her civil status. Further, this interpretation is in consonance with the principle that surnames indicate descent.”
However, in that same 2010 case, the Supreme Court also upheld R.A. 8239 as a special situation provided by law, and thus affirmed that a woman cannot change the surname on her passport at will:
The Court notes that petitioner would not have encountered any problems in the replacement passport had she opted to continuously and consistently use her maiden name from the moment she was married and from the time she first applied for a Philippine passport. However, petitioner consciously chose to use her husbands surname before, in her previous passport application, and now desires to resume her maiden name. If we allow petitioner’s present request, definitely nothing prevents her in the future from requesting to revert to the use of her husbands surname. Such unjustified changes in one’s name and identity in a passport, which is considered superior to all other official documents, cannot be countenanced. Otherwise, undue confusion and inconsistency in the records of passport holders will arise. Thus, for passport issuance purposes, a married woman, such as petitioner, whose marriage subsists, may not change her family name at will.
THE ACQUISITION OF A PHILIPPINE PASSPORT IS A PRIVILEGE. THE LAW RECOGNIZES THE PASSPORT APPLICANTS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO TRAVEL. HOWEVER, THE STATE IS ALSO MANDATED TO PROTECT AND MAINTAIN THE INTEGRITY AND CREDIBILITY OF THE PASSPORT AND TRAVEL DOCUMENTS PROCEEDING FROM IT AS A PHILIPPINE PASSPORT REMAINS AT ALL TIMES THE PROPERTY OF THE GOVERNMENT. THE HOLDER IS MERELY A POSSESSOR OF THE PASSPORT AS LONG AS IT IS VALID AND THE SAME MAY NOT BE SURRENDERED TO ANY PERSON OR ENTITY OTHER THAN THE GOVERNMENT OR ITS REPRESENTATIVE.
As the OSG correctly pointed out:
[T]he issuance of passports is impressed with public interest. A passport is an official document of identity and nationality issued to a person intending to travel or sojourn in foreign countries. It is issued by the Philippine government to its citizens requesting other governments to allow its holder to pass safely and freely, and in case of need, to give him/her aid and protection. x x x
Viewed in the light of the foregoing, it is within respondent’s competence to regulate any amendments intended to be made therein, including the denial of unreasonable and whimsical requests for amendments such as in the instant case.
The Philippine Commission on Women has raised the criticism that this law limits a woman’s right to use her own surname.
But it is still the current law and, until R.A. 8239 is amended or the Supreme Court reconsiders the interpretation, it guides the Department of Foreign Affairs’ / Philippine embassies’ requirements for allowing a change of surname in a woman’s passport.
For this reason, they typically require that the divorcee’s previous Report of Marriage or Certificate of Marriage be presented with an official annotation of the recognition of the divorce before they will allow a change in surname.
If changing name to revert to maiden name after annulment/judicial recognition of divorce:
PSA-issued Marriage Contract with Annotation to show annulment/divorce/court-ordered instruction, OR
If annotated Marriage Contract from PSA is not yet available,
applicant must submit a DFA-authenticated Certified True Copy of the Court Order dissolving the marriage, AND
a DFA-authenticated Certificate of Finality from the court.
Complying with these requires a court case in the Philippines. For this reason, another Philippine embassy notes that:
A foreign divorce must be first recognized by a Philippine Court, under Article 26 of the Family Code of the Philippines. This is obtained only by hiring a lawyer in the Philippines to lodge a Petition for judicial acknowledgment of foreign divorce with a Philippine Court. If the Petition is successful, a Court Order will be issued for the purpose of amending the applicant’s PSA marriage certificate.
 Remo vs. The Honorable Secretary of Foreign Affairs, G.R. No. 169202, March 5, 2010.