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Mar 10, 2009

G.R. No. L-16749, January 31, 1963

  • Nationality Principle
  • EXCEPTION: Renvoi Doctrine


Edward E. Christensen, who at his death was a US citizen but domiciled in the Philippines, left a will devising unto Maria Helen (Christensen Garcia) the amount of P3, 600.00, and leaving the rest of his estate to his daughter, Maria Lucy (Christensen Daney). During partition, Helen opposed, saying that she is deprived of her legitime as acknowledged natural child of the testator. She further argued that Section 946 of the California Civil Code provides that the laws of the domicile of the decedent should be applied.

The trial court ruled that since Edward E. Christensen was a US citizen at the time of his death, the successional rights and intrinsic validity of the provisions of his will are to be governed by the law of California.


  • Whether or not the Renvoi Doctrine should be applied


There is no question that Edward E. Christensen was a citizen of the United States and of the State of California at the time of his death. But there is also no question that at the time of his death he was domiciled in the Philippines.

Meaning of “Domicile” and “Residence”

Goodrich: “The terms ‘residence’ and ‘domicile’ might well be taken to mean the same thing, a place of permanent abode. But domicile, as has been shown, has acquired a technical meaning. Thus one may be domiciled in a place where he has never been. And he may reside in a place where he has no domicile. The man with two homes, between which he divides his time, certainly resides in each one, while living in it. But if he went on business which would require his presence for several weeks or months, he might properly be said to have sufficient connection with the place to be called a resident. It is clear, however, that, if he treated his settlement as continuing only for the particular business in hand, not giving up his former “home,” he could not be a domiciled New Yorker. Acquisition of a domicile of choice requires the exercise of intention as well as physical presence. “Residence simply requires bodily presence of an inhabitant in a given place, while domicile requires bodily presence in that place and also an intention to make it one’s domicile.” Residence, however, is a term used with shades of meaning, from the merest temporary presence to the most permanent abode, and it is not safe to insist that any one use is the only proper one.”

Nationality Principle

The law that governs the validity of his testamentary dispositions is defined in Article 16 of the Civil Code of the Philippines.

The application of this article in the case at bar requires the determination of the meaning of the term “national law” as used therein.

There is no single American law governing the validity of testamentary provisions in the United States, each state of the Union having its own private law applicable to its citizens only and in force only within the state. The “national law” indicated in Article 16 of the Civil Code…cannot, therefore, possibly mean or apply to any general American law. So it can refer to no other than the private law of the State of California.

The next question is: What is the law in California governing the disposition of personal property?

…appellant invokes the provisions of Article 946 if the Civil Code of California: “If there is no law to the contrary, in the place where personal property is situated, it is deemed to follow the person of its owner, and is governed by the law of his domicile.”

….It is argued on executor’s behalf that as the deceased Christensen was a citizen of the State of California, the internal law thereof should govern the determination of the validity of the testamentary provisions of Christensen’s will, such law being in force in the State of California of which Christensen was a citizen. Appellant, on the other hand, insists that Article 946 should be applicable, and in accordance therewith and following the doctrine of renvoi, the question of the validity of the testamentary provision in question should be referred back to the law of the decedent’s domicile, which is the Philippines.

Renvoi Doctrine

One type of renvoi. A jural matter is presented which the conflict-of-laws rule of the forum refers to a foreign law, the conflict-of-laws rule of which, in turn, refers back the matter back again to the law of the forum. This is renvoi in the narrower sense. The German term for this judicial process is ‘Ruckverweisung.’ (“Renvoyer” to send back; or “Weiterverweisung”)

Another theory, known as the “doctrine of renvoi,” has been advanced. The theory of the doctrine of renvoi is that the court of the forum, in determining the question before it, must take into account the whole law of the other jurisdiction, but also its rules as to conflict of laws, and then apply the law to the actual question which the rules of the other jurisdiction prescribe. This may be the law of the forum. The doctrine of the renvoi has generally been repudiated by the American authorities.

Renvoi Doctrine as Applied by the Court in this case

We note that Article 946 of the California Civil Code is its conflict of laws rule, while the rule applied in In Re Kaufman, supra, its internal law. If the law on succession and the conflict of laws rules of California are to be enforced jointly, each in its own intended and appropriate sphere, the principle cited In Re Kaufman should apply to citizens living in the State, but Article 946 should apply to such of its citizens as are not domiciled in California but in other jurisdictions. The rule laid down of resorting to the law of the domicile in the determination of matters with foreign element involved is in accord with the general principle of American law that the domiciliary law should govern in most matters or rights which follow the person of the owner.

Appellees argue that what Article 16 of the Civil Code of the Philippines pointed out as the national law is the internal law of California. But as above explained, the laws of California have prescribed two sets of laws for its citizens, one for residents therein and another for those domiciled in other jurisdictions. Reason demands that We should enforce the California internal law prescribed for its citizens residing therein, and enforce the conflict of laws rules for the citizens domiciled abroad. If we must enforce the law of California as in comity we are bound to do, as so declared in Article 16 of our Civil Code, then we must enforce the law of California in accordance with the express mandate thereof and as above explained, i.e., apply the internal law for residents therein, and its conflict-of-laws rule for those domiciled abroad.

It is argued on appellees' behalf that the clause "if there is no law to the contrary in the place where the property is situated" in Sec. 946 of the California Civil Code refers to Article 16 of the Civil Code of the Philippines and that the law to the contrary in the Philippines is the provision in said Article 16 that the national law of the deceased should govern. This contention can not be sustained. As explained in the various authorities cited above the national law mentioned in Article 16 of our Civil Code is the law on conflict of laws in the California Civil Code, i.e., Article 946, which authorizes the reference or return of the question to the law of the testator's domicile. The conflict of laws rule in California, Article 946, Civil Code, precisely refers back the case, when a decedent is not domiciled in California, to the law of his domicile, the Philippines in the case at bar. The court of the domicile can not and should not refer the case back to California; such action would leave the issue incapable of determination because the case will then be like a football, tossed back and forth between the two states, between the country of which the decedent was a citizen and the country of his domicile. The Philippine court must apply its own law as directed in the conflict of laws rule of the state of the decedent, if the question has to be decided, especially as the application of the internal law of California provides no legitime for children while the Philippine law, Arts. 887(4) and 894, Civil Code of the Philippines, makes natural children legally acknowledged forced heirs of the parent recognizing them.


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