Iggy’s ‘last will’ favors common-law wife

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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The fight over remains of the late congressman heats up 16 days after his death

LEGAL SHOWDOWN. The women left behind by Rep Ignacio "Iggy" Arroyo are headed for a court battle over inheritance and his remains.

MANILA, Philippines – A will supposedly left by the late Negros Occidental Rep Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo gives his common-law wife Grace Ibuna, instead of his legal but estranged wife, the rights over his remains.

Arroyo left behind his legal wife Alicia, also known as “Aleli,” and common-law wife Grace entangled in controversy after his untimely death in London more than 2 weeks ago.

This latest development further complicates the escalating tiff between the two women, who have been locked in a legal battle over the remains of the late congressman, brother of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo. 

Ibuna has until Monday, February 13, to produce written evidence before a London court that is hearing the case. She has been granted a special power of attorney over the will which grants custody over Arroyo’s remains, an ABS-CBN News report posted early Saturday morning, February 11, said.

Besides custody over Arroyo’s body, the legal will also covers disposition of inheritance. No information was available regarding the will’s financial details, the ABS-CBN report said.

Arroyo also supposedly expressed his wish to be buried in Manila beside his mother’s tomb.

“The case became complicated because Iggy, who executed the will in San Francisco, passed away in London,” the report said.

UK Justice Peter Smith reportedly received a copy of the will in the presence of Philippa Daniels, Ibuna’s solicitor, and Tristan Jones, counsel of the funeral home that keeps Arroyo’s remains.

The UK trial on the rights over Arroyo’s remains will begin February 20, almost a month after he died, according to a report on ABS-CBN’s Bandila newscast.

Ibuna ‘betrays intentions’

In a text message to Rappler, Alicia’s lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, said their camp has received information from a reliable source “that Grace Ibuna, for insufficient evidence, was not able to get yesterday a court order granting her application for (the) release of Iggy’s remains to her.”

The UK court ordered Ibuna and the parties involved to submit more documents to the court on February 13, 15, and 17, and to present via teleconferencing an expert on Philippine law on February 20, the date of the next hearing.

Kapunan, however, said Alicia would not participate in the proceedings due to the UK court’s lack of jurisdiction over Philippine citizens and its lack of competence in Philippine law.

“By filing the case in the UK, Ibuna has further delayed the repatriation of the remains to the legal wife, Alicia, who just wants to bury him in peace,” Kapunan said.

“Ibuna betrays her real intentions when she produced in the UK court documents purportedly signed by Iggy naming her as the beneficiary of all his assets, excluding the legal wife and 3 daughters,” the lawyer added.

Rappler could not independently verify Kapunan’s claim, or reach Ibuna, as of posting time.

In an interview on ANC earlier this week, Alicia expressed anger “for the fact that I was not able to bring home the remains, for the fact that he’s stuck there in the freezer.”

ESCALATING TIFF. Iggy Arroyo remains unburied 16 days after his death due to an escalating tiff between his 2 wives. File photo by Gilbert Engay, MRS-PRIB.

Later during the interview, anchor Karen Davila asked Alicia, “Are you willing to make peace (with Ibuna)?”

“I’m willing to make peace with the family – peace and healing with the family… our family,” Alicia said. “We are a family, the Arroyo family – not the wannabes, who will never be.”  

Blocking Iggy’s return

In a phone interview last week, Kapunan said Ibuna filed a complaint before a UK court to stop the repatriation of Arroyo’s body to the Philippines. “We are in absolute shock,” she said. 

Kapunan, however, said Philippine law should prevail on this issue due to the Filipino citizenship of all parties involved. “It’s a principle of law that you are covered by the laws of your citizenship… You do not cease to be Filipino. Philippine law follows you wherever you go,” the lawyer explained.

The Civil Code of the Philippines appears to support Kapunan’s claim. “Laws relating to family rights and duties, or to the status, condition and legal capacity of persons are binding upon citizens of the Philippines, even though living abroad,” says Article 15 of the Civil Code.

On ANC, Kapunan also criticized Ibuna for being a supposedly self-styled common-law wife. “She calls herself common-law wife. Wala namang common-law wife dito (sa Pilipinas); mistress ka,” she said. (We don’t acknowledge common-law wives in the Philippines; you’re a mistress.)

When asked by ANC’s Davila if UK law acknowledges common-law wives, Kapunan said yes. “But there is a requirement that both man and woman have to be able to get married. In other words, there is no legal incapacity. Iggy is married. He cannot get married to Grace even if he wanted to,” she said.

Arroyo’s marriage to Alicia never got annulled, Kapunan has emphasized.

‘He wanted to be in heaven’

If the issue leaves a bad taste in the mouth for some observers, Kapunan said “bad taste is not coming from us.”

“If there is any bad taste, it is coming from Grace Ibuna,” Kapunan said.

Meanwhile, an ANC viewer asked Alicia if Arroyo would have appreciated her claim for the rights over his remains, given that Ibuna “was the partner Iggy chose to be with.”

“Yes,” Alicia answered, “because during the time he was with Grace Ibuna, he was not, shall we say, in the right mind.”

“I don’t mean to judge, but when you are already committing adultery, you are not in the state of grace. And if you are not in the state of grace, there’s a tendency not to have wisdom, determining what is right from wrong,” she explained.

“And when we were together, it was clear what he wanted to have, to be,” said Alicia, a devout Catholic. “He wanted to be in heaven.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.