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Philippines One Of The Only Two Countries In The World Without Divorce—But That Can Change Soon

The House of Representatives made a historic move yesterday, when House Bill 7303, for the first time, was passed on the third reading at the lower house.

Philippines is one of the only two countries in the world where divorce is still illegal—the other one being the Vatican City. In these two countries, the only way for a couple to render their marriage moot is to file for an annulment, which has been criticized by many for its laborious and expensive process. Annulment was also not an option for women who suffer from infidelity, and physical and sexual abuse.

Rep. Ancieto Bertiz of ACTS OFW party-list recalls a time when he attended a public hearing where an overseas Filipino woman came home to the Philippines, only to find that her home has already been occupied by her husband and his mistress. She could not file for divorce.

House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that when he underwent annulment to separate from his first wife, it cost him at least a million pesos. That was something that regular Filipinos who were trapped in abusive and irreparable marriages are not able to afford.

Ergo, the Divorce Bill.

HB 7303 or the Divorce Bill was submitted for plenary deliberations by the Committee on Population and Family Relations on February 21. After only a month, the lower house has voted in favor of the bill, to the satisfaction of many women advocacy groups.

In a statement, Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus said, “Ang pagpasok sa kontrata ng kasal, na kinikilala ng estado ay isang karapatan. Karapatang may karampatang obligasyong kailangan tuparin ng dalawang panig. Dapat naroroon ang pagmamahalan, paggalang, suporta at iba pang factors na magbibigay ng kaligayahan at kalusugan sa kanilang relasyon.”

“Kapag may paglabag sa mga obligasyong ito, na kung minsang umaabot pa sa puntong nakataya na ang buhay at katinuan sa pagitan ng mag-asawa, marapat lamang na kilalanin din ng estado ang karapatan na wakasan ang kontrata at karapatang umalis sa relasyon.”

Included in the grounds to file for divorce are:

  • reasons stated under legal separation and annulment under the Family Code
  • separation of spouses for at least five years
  • legal separation by judicial decree for at least two years
  • psychological incapacity
  • irreconcilable marital differences
  • one of the spouses undergoes a gender reassignment surgery

The house also wants to pass a divorce bill that will create the divorce process affordable and inexpensive so as to aid women who are trapped in abusive marriages.

Now that the bill has been steered through the lower house, there are two more things that the bill must tick off before it gets passed as a law. The same version of the bill must also be passed by the Senate, before it is brought to the Malacañang to be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

This poses a bigger challenge for the bill since the president has always been vocal about his opposition to divorce. If the president vetoes the bill and doesn’t sign it, it goes back to the Congress. It can only be passed into law then if 2/3 of the two houses vote to pass the bill.

It can be remembered that President Duterte has had is marriage annulled long before he was elected president.

In a statement by Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, he said, “Ang Presidente po ay tutol sa divorce. Ang sabi niya, kawawa ang mga anak at kung magkakaroon ng divorce, mawawalan ng karapatang magsampa ng kaso ang mga asawa na pinabayaan ng asawa nila matapos ang divorce.”

According to Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, who sponsored the bill in the lower house, divorce would actually be beneficial to children because it bails them out from the negativity and possible violence that occurs between constantly bickering couples.

"Studies would show that it would be better for children to have divorced parents than continue staying in a broken relationship because they are subject to agony and distress," Lagman told ANC.

The Church, of course, stands by the president and wants to stop the bill from getting any further support through the Congress. Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)’s Public Affairs Committee, said that divorce is not the solution for dysfunctional marriages.

“We stick to our belief, because our belief is based on the teachings of the scriptures, on the teachings of Chirst himself. We are not going to consider what our congressmen thought about the matter,” said Secillano.

While the Philippines continue to be predominantly Catholic—80 percent of Filipinos remain Roman Catholics—more Filipinos are not holding the same sentiments as the Catholic Church. In a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) last year, already 56 percent of adult Filipinos are in favor of divorce, while 32 percent opposed.

Lagman said in 2016, when he first tried to introduce an absolute divorce law through HB 116, “While most marriages are supposed to be solemnized in heaven, the reality is many marriages plummet into hell - in irremediable breakdown, spousal abuse, marital infidelity and psychological incapacity, among others, which bedevil marriages.”