While Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, not all love stories lead to a happy ending.
In many countries, the best way to end these romance-turned-nightmare stories is divorce. However, it’s not the case for Filipinos as the Philippines does not have a divorce law yet.
Measures to legalize divorce in the country have been introduced by lawmakers though.
On March 19, 2018, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill (HB) No. 7303, which seeks to legalize absolute divorce in the country, over a decade after it was introduced during the 13th Congress in 2005.
Bills pushing for divorce were also filed by lawmakers during the 14th, 15th, and 16th Congress.
For the 15th Congress, then Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and Pangasinan Rep. Marlyn Primicias-Agabas sponsored HB 4368 that seeks to “harmonize” the Family Code “with recent rulings of the SC on divorce obtained by the alien spouse in another country.”
The House plenary approved the said bill on Sept. 26, 2012, and was received by the Senate on the same day.
Then Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan also filed a bill to amend the Family Code and introduce divorce. The bill was referred to the Committee on Revision of Laws on January 26, 2011.
Five similar bills on divorce were also filed during the 16th Congress. The Ilagan-sponsored bill has been pending with the Committee on Population and Family Relations since May 20, 2014.
However, advocates of this measure face a powerful adversary — the Catholic Church.
Aside from the Philippines, Vatican City, an independent state headed by the Pope, is the only country in the world without divorce but allows the annulment of marriages.
It is perhaps Spain’s legacy to the country that even after the Philippines was free from their colonization, Filipinos embraced the Catholic faith, which up to now has a big influence on the country’s way of life and government policies.
The Church views marriage as a sacred vow and the Philippine Constitution upholds it as an institution that should be protected. It firmly stresses that no man can break what God has unified through the sacrament of marriage.
While many lawmakers push for divorce laws in the country, their efforts are continuously blocked by their colleagues who have conservative views on marriage and by the so-called “Catholic vote”.
An average of 53 percent of adult Filipinos nationwide support the legalization of divorce for irreconcilably separated couples, based on the Social Weather Stations surveys of March 25-28, 2017 and December 8-16, 2017.
The survey also showed “very strong” net agreement among women with live-in partners, men with live-in partners, and widowed/separated men.
Pia Roces Morato, an advocate of the bill, said during the Philippine News Agency’s (PNA) Pros and Cons episode that she upholds the sanctity of marriage but unfortunate events brought her to annulment.
“I admit it is painful but it is worth it. You do not get into marriage without love. But it just did not work out (for us),” she added.
Currently, the only legal recourse available to Filipinos who want to exit a failed union is through an annulment or a petition for legal separation. These two options have different grounds and end results.
Annulment is an expensive and a tedious legal battle, especially if one party is not cooperating and is against the petition.
To be granted an annulment, issues must have taken place before the marriage, since annulment nullifies the marriage.
For example, an annulment demonstrates that marriage didn’t happen in the first place. Psychological incapacity, mistaken identity, and being underage are some reasons an annulment can be granted.
Still from the Pros and Cons episode, Fr. Jerome Secillano, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ Committee on Public Affairs, remarked that the government has overlooked ways to re-strengthen a weakening marriage.
He also cited that the Catholic Law allows nullity of marriage.
“May legal na proseso din naman ang simbahan. Ang Santo Papa mismo ang nag-udyok na gawing mas simple ang programa upang mapadali ang proseso (The Church has a legal process [that nullifies marriage]. In fact, the Pope has made the program simpler to hasten the process),” Secillano added.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas meanwhile responded, “Yung hinahanap po kasi ng mga nag-aabang ng batas na ito ay isang legal option — divorce. Naniniwala tayo na hindi ito ang end all, ngunit hindi naman makakasagabal sa mga happy marriages (Those who anticipate the passage of this bill is looking for a legal option — divorce. While we believe that this should not be the end-all, it does not in any way form a hindrance to those who are happily married anyway).”
Senate Bill No. 2134 or the Divorce Act of 2018 was filed in the Senate last January.
Under the bill, absolute divorce can be obtained under the following conditions: physical abuse happens or a “grossly abusive conduct” is exhibited, psychological incapacity, irreconcilable marital differences despite efforts to reconcile, marital rape, and separation for at least five years, among others.
It will also penalize the spouse found to have used force or intimidation to compel the other spouse to file the petition. (PNA)