Last March 19, 2018, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill 7303 “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines" voting 134 for and 57 against with two abstaining. Although its passage of the bill at the lower house of congress was relatively trouble free, its ultimately becoming a law is problematic and uncertain. This is because there are still so many obstacles from formidable forces to overcome.
For the law to move forward, the Senate or upper house has to pass a similar bill, but from initial indications, it seemed to be doomed because it is reported that at least half of the members of the chamber are not inclined to support it. Up to now, no bill has yet been filed in the Senate proposing divorce so the committee to which it was referred to would have to craft a substitute bill.
According to reports, what many senators favor is to simply make the existing process of annulment under the Civil Code and the Family Code more affordable and accessible instead of expanding the grounds provided under a new law on divorce. These lawmakers want to make the annulment laws simplified and not anti-poor. For instance there is already a proposed bill seeking the acceptance of Church annulment as equal to a court annulment. This means that under the bill if you’re annulled by the Church, then that has to be recognized by the government in order to facilitate the acceptance of annulment by the courts which can cut down the expenses because of the avoidance of another repetitive process which increases the cost and lengthens the procedure.
Another formidable obstacle to the passage of the law is the view of the Philippine president who has openly expressed that he is against divorce. According to his spokesperson, the president thinks divorce should not be made legal because it would negatively affect the children of the couple and make the children’s condition pitiful. Another reason is that the president thinks legalizing divorce will rob the abandoned spouse of his or her right to file charges against his or her abusive partner for support from the abusive partner, completely ignoring the provision in the proposed law regarding alimony. So even if the bill is passed by both houses and the differences in the two versions are reconciled during the bicameral committee meeting, the president can still veto it.
And as expected, the most severe opposition to the divorce law comes from the Catholic Church. For the leadership of the Church the passage of the bill in the lower house is a betrayal of family morals. Officials of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) expressed disappointment over the House of Representatives approval of a bill that will legalize divorce in the country. They criticize the bill as “anti-marriage and anti- family.” They maintain that “by passing this measure, congress betrays its mandate to protect our country’s legally and morally declared social and inviolable institutions!”
According to one bishop who is the chairperson of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Mission, “divorce is a direct affront to the law ordained by God and specifically reiterated by our Lord Jesus Christ! The destruction of families by divorce is indeed a project of Satan.” He urged the clergy to “rally against this law by showing the disastrous effect of divorce that destroys the family, the basic unit of society and the domestic Church.”
But what about the view of the ordinary Filipino? How will this view figure in the equation? More than half of Filipinos agree that divorce should be legalized for “irreconcilably separated couples,” as revealed by a nationwide Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey taken during the last quarter of 2017. According to the survey 53 percent of Filipino adults agreed with the statement, “Married couples who have already separated and cannot reconcile anymore should be allowed to divorce so that they can get legally married again.” Only 32 percent disagreed, while 15 percent were undecided, resulting in a net agreement score of +21, classified as “moderately strong.”
SWS further reported that support for legalization of divorce was “very strong” among women with live-in partners, men with live-in partners and widowed or separated men. The survey was conducted using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults, aged 18 years old and above, nationwide. It has a margin of error of ±3% nationwide, ±4% for Luzon, and ±6% each for Metro Manila, Visayas and Mindanao, SWS explained.
In the end, the question to answer is which voice will ultimately prevail regarding the matter at hand considering the social and political climate in the country? Will the politicians and policy makers listen to the voice of the people in their decision making?
(Adelaida Lacaba- Bago, Ph.D. is a retired professor of education at De La Salle University in the Philippines where she handled courses in the graduate programs. She has published four books on curriculum development, supervision of instruction, social dimensions of Philippine education and the most recent one, Thesis Writing with Confidence.)
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