A Superior Court judge has ruled that a marriage ceremony performed at the Philippine Consulate General on Saipan between two Filipinos was not in compliance with local law, invalid, and not enforceable by the court.
Citing the Vienna Convention, U.S.-Philippine treaties, and U.S. law, a legal marriage is required to be performed in accordance with local laws, according to Associate Judge Teresa K. Kim-Tenorio.
In finding the marriage between Virginia L. Bonifacio and Gil Ramos Medina in 1993 on Saipan to be invalid, Kim-Tenorio said the ceremony lacked a marriage license and was not registered in the marriage register.
“There was not a legally binding marriage,” the judge noted in her ruling on Tuesday.
Kim-Tenorio, however, found the 1997 marriage in Chuuk between Gil Medina, who is now deceased, and Antonia Reyes Medina, a Chuukese national, to be valid.
As such, Antonia Medina is the only wife of Gil Medina, and as such, she has the right to bury her husband where she sees fit, Kim-Tenorio said.
According to court records, Gil Medina killed himself last Dec. 19 on Saipan. He left behind a handwritten note addressed to Antonia Medina, her children, and their grandchild/reared son.
Arrangements were made for a funeral viewing and cremation with Borja Funeral Home to take place Jan. 9, 2018. A representative from the Philippine honorary consul on Saipan approached Antonia Medina last Jan. 8 and informed her about Gil Medina’s alleged marriage to Virginia Bonifacio in 1993 on Saipan.
The consulate representative told Antonia Medina about Bonifacio’s claim to Gil Medina’s body.
Bonifacio is also against the cremation of the body. She would like the body to be repatriated back to the Philippines to be buried by herself and the two children she had with him.
Bonifacio asserted she was validly married to Gil Medina and has a right to dispose of the body as she chooses.
Then-Philippine Consul Renato L. Villapando officiated the marriage ceremony between Gil Medina and Bonifacio at the Philippine Consulate General on Saipan in 1993.
Shortly thereafter, Bonifacio returned to the Philippines and gave birth to their first child. Gil Medina remained in the CNMI.
Gil Medina visited the Philippines once in 2001 and once in September 2017. During his 2001 visit, Gil Medina conceived a second child with Bonifacio.
Antonia Medina and Gil Medina were married in April 1997 in Chuuk. The two then resided together on Saipan. Their marriage is not in dispute.
At the time of the marriage, Antonia Medina had three children from a previous relationship. Beginning in November 2011, Gil Medina received humanitarian parole from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, based upon Antonia Medina’s marriage to him, their reared son, and biological grandson.
Antonia Medina, through counsel Jane Mack and Christopher Heeb, filed a petition questioning the validity of the marriage between Gil Medina and Bonifacio.
At the hearing last Friday, Bonifacio was not present, but was represented by attorney Steven Pixley.
Antonia Medina’s argument is that because the CNMI statute was not followed, the marriage ceremony between Gil Medina and Bonifacio did not create a valid marriage.
Pixley argued that Gil Medina and Bonifacio were not required to comply with local law because the Philippine Consulate General is sovereign territory, and their marriage was presumably legal in the Philippines.
In her ruling, Kim-Tenorio said the matter is one of first impressions.
Kim-Tenorio said that while Gil Medina and Bonifacio were over the age of 18, there is no evidence they were ever issued a license by the CNMI mayor or governor.
As evidenced by Antonia Medina’s exhibit, there is no record of the marriage license or certificate being registered with the clerk of court, Kim-Tenorio said.
“This failure to comply with CNMI marriage statutes is fatal to the validity of the marriage,” the judge pointed out.
Kim-Tenorio said that despite Gil Medina and Bonifacio’s marriage being solemnized by a Philippine consular officer, it still required to follow local law. She said the validity of marriages performed by foreign consuls depends on local laws.
The judge noted that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Vienna Convention), which both the U.S. and the Philippines are signatories to, states in part: “consular officers may act as notary and civil registrar and in capacities of a similar kind, and perform certain functions of an administrative nature, provided that there is nothing contrary thereto in the laws and regulations of the receiving State.”
Here, Kim-Tenorio said, Gil Medina and Bonifacio failed to comply with both the license and registration requirements of CNMI law, both mandatory.
Under the requirements of the Vienna Convention, the judge said, Gil Medina and Bonifacio were not legally married.
In the case of marriages, the Philippine Consulate is not foreign soil.
Kim-Tenorio said while Philippine consular officers are authorized to solemnize marriages between two Filipinos of the states under the jurisdiction of the embassy/consulate general, they are not allowed to issue licenses.
Kim-Tenorio said the marriage ceremony between Bonifacio and Gil Medina was not legally enforceable in the CNMI because the authorizing official was not the governor or the mayor, and because the document was not registered with the clerk of court in compliance with CNMI statutory law.
“Accordingly, even if the law of the Philippines did apply, the marriage would still be invalid, “ the judge said.