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Philippines: Debate on Divorce Bill

Categories: East Asia, Philippines, Law, Religion, Women & Gender

Just before the intense debate on the Reproductive Health bill, Filipinos are once more at odds with each other in considering another controversial piece of legislation: the Divorce bill.

The debate on legalizing divorce took a kick-start when news of Maltese referendum favoring divorce reached the Philippines a few days ago. This has prompted progressive groups to make a bolder call for the country to follow in Malta's steps and legalize divorce in a predominantly Catholic nation.

The debate on divorce is nothing new, see here AttyatWork's round-up of talking points [1] on the issue from last year.

Filipino Thinkers [2] has a great digest of how the debate was settled and how the referendum unfolded in Malta. More importantly, it provides a side by side comparison of the issue between the Philippines and Malta:

Aside from the happy ending, which left the Philippines the only country without divorce1, the story of Malta’s divorce referendum shares similarities with our own reproductive health (RH) debates:

both countries are last bastions of Catholicism: Malta in Europe, the Philippines in Asia; both countries are predominantly Catholic: 95% in Malta, 80% in the Philippines; and both battles are primarily between progressive Catholics and conservative bishops. And in both cases, the conservative bishops use fear mongering to keep their flock in line.

For a quick refresher on the differences between divorce, annulment and legal separation, Lyle R. Santos has a quick guide in layman's terms [3].

With Malta's approval of divorce, the Philippines is now the lone country in the world that prohibits it. For Blue Dela Kanluran, the debate on divorce should not be framed on this fact alone [4]:

As i had stated earlier my stand is against divorce however, I will not begrudge a sovereign nation of their right to decide whats best for their country and themselves as Malta has displayed here. (See, that is an example of the separation of Church and State).

Which leads me to wonder, what effects will the stigma of the only country which outlaws divorce have on the Philippines?

Personally, I think this will make pro-divorce legislation in the future more difficult not only because of the meddling of the Church but with the stigma earlier stated as well (Which is not how legislation should be argued).

Cocoy views the near-approval of the Reproductive Health and now the Divorce bill as a ‘reboot [5]‘ of the Philippines, moving from a predominantly religious state in a secular one:

If the Reproductive Health bill becomes law, and it is followed by a divorce bill? That would be one continuity reboot for the Philippines. It signals that the nation is slowly becoming secular and less under the thrall of the Vatican.

As a Catholic, for me, it presents an opportunity for the Church to focus on the spiritual. I want sermons and direction that make me a better person. I don’t need the Church to tell me what is wrong with government. Filipinos everywhere already know what’s wrong with our nation. It is that time in history that we fix it. I need my church to help guide that poor maid who is always beaten up by her husband. I need a Church that guides street children away from the streets, and into education. I need this church to be relevant.

Dreamwalker takes delight in the fact that this proposed laws, no matter how dividing and controversial, sparks debate among society [6], thus encouraging everyone to take part in the national discourse:

I continue to be amazed by how Filipinos seem to be more aware of what is happening in the country and how we seek to be more informed about our laws – both proposed and existing. In my opinion, this can only lead to more good. Never mind that there will always b

Maju brings forward a valid point in cautioning that our lawmakers should take up the divorce law with a keener eye [7]:

We should also get onto considerations on how good or bad are existing divorce laws. In many countries, notably those under the Sharia, the rights of women and men in divorce are not the same.

Lastly, here's a good discussion by a lawyer, Connie Veneracion [8], about annulment, legal separation under current Philippine laws and how divorce could plug the holes in the current Family Code:

Later on, however, it became clear that despite the leeway allowed by the concept of psychological incapacity, there was a huge gaping hole in the law. Annulment is a very expensive legal procedure beyond the financial capacity of majority of the Filipinos. The laundrywoman living in the slums who is physically abused by the drunken jobless husband could not afford it. In addition to the expense, the process was a long and tedious one. Eventually, the divorce advocates started making noise again. As expected, the Catholic church is getting more imaginative in coming up with arguments against divorce.

It is sad that most Filipinos cannot view marriage independently from its religious context. It is even more sad that most Filipinos do not consider themselves validly married unless married in church. Very sad indeed.

So, will the passage of a divorce law patch the loopholes in the Family Code? It depends on what the law will allow as valid grounds for divorce and what the required procedure will be. It has happened before that a law is passed as some sort of pacifier. Congress can pass a “divorce” law which such narrow grounds and complex process that it will effectively negate the very purpose of a divorce. You know, just so it can be said that a divorce law has been passed. I doubt if that will satisfy the progressives and the divorce advocates.

Thumbnail used is from Flickr page of jekert gwapo [9] used under CC License Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)