Published 14 March 2022, The Daily Tribune

One’s biological identity goes beyond the self and extends to legal rights and obligations. It is for this reason that filiation and paternity suits are filed. Aside from establishing one’s legal identity, from filiation and paternity for many legal rights that can be established for the benefit of the claimant, such as support, citizenship and inheritance.

We need to underscore at the outset that there are basic legal presumptions to consider in every paternity suit. A child born to a husband and wife during a valid marriage is presumed legitimate.

The child’s legitimacy may be impugned only under the strict standards provided by law.

However, paternity and filiation suits are filed mostly involving children born outside of a valid marriage, in which case a traditional paternity action involves proof of a woman’s sexual relations with the putative father.

Proving paternity is mostly about credibility. On the other hand, DNA evidence has emerged through the years as a reliable scientific evidence in most criminal and civil litigations, whether involving paternity/ filiation or otherwise. What is the admissibility and probative value of DNA evidence in paternity proceedings?

In the case of Herrera vs Alba (GR.148220, 15 June 2005), respondent, a minor child, represented by his mother, Armi Alba, filed a petition for compulsory recognition, support and damages against petitioner. Having alleged that petitioner was the biological father and given corroborative proof in the form of letters and pictures, respondent’s mother filed a motion to direct the taking of DNA paternity testing to counter petitioner’s denial. She presented expert evidence describing the process for DNA paternity testing and asserted that the test had an accuracy rate of 99.9999 percent in establishing paternity.

The trial court granted the motion despite petitioner’s claim that DNA testing in paternity suits had not gained acceptability at the time, and that DNA paternity testing violates his right against self-incrimination.

In the context of deciding the probative value of a DNA test in establishing filiation and whether the putative father’s right against self-incrimination is violated by being ordered to take such test, the Supreme Court aptly observed that paternity and filiation disputes can easily become credibility contests.

The traditional aspects of a traditional paternity action involve establishing a prima facie case, which is the showing of corroborative proof of sexual relations. Once this proof is given, it shifts the burden from the person claiming that the putative father is the biological father of the child, to the putative father who can present affirmative defenses. The affirmative defense can be either that he is incapable of sexual relations due to physical absence or impotency, or that the mother had sexual relations with other men at the time of conception.

One unique aspect of paternity proceedings is a trial technique involving showing of physical resemblance between the putative father and child as evidence. However, this is a weaker evidence compared to the above given that there is no formal quantification to determine if physical resemblance dictates paternity, and it has been said this kind of evidence appeals more to the emotions.

Under Art. 172 of the Family Code, the filiation of legitimate children is established by the record of birth appearing in the civil register or a final judgment, or either a notarized or privately signed admission of legitimate filiation by the parent concerned. It can also be by the open and continuous possession of the status of a legitimate child; or any other means allowed by the Rules of Court and special laws.

In various jurisprudence, evidence of paternity and filiation is seemingly limited to incriminating acts alone. The present case is a landmark one because it goes beyond blood grouping tests and incriminating acts as evidence. Analysis of deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, a distinct and unique genetic blueprint, may very well be a key piece in paternity proceedings.

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