Debating divorce Pinoy-style

by Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jan 08 2013 05:24 PM | Updated as of Jan 10 2013 07:12 AM

"What God has put together, let no man put asunder."

Aside from the Vatican, the Philippines is the only country in the world that does not have a law on divorce.

Following the signing of the Reproductive Health Law in December 2012, the House leadership said it was ready to take up discussions on divorce.

According to Marikina 1st District Rep. Marcelino Teodoro, he believes there is no blanket prohibition in the Constitution about divorce.

Teodoro is the author of House Bill 2768 or the Anti-Divorce and Unlawful Dissolution of  Marriage Act. He said the bill hopes to discourage the enactment of any bill on absolute divorce.

"There's no blanket prohibition in the constitution about divorce. That’s why we have legal separation, annulment and marriages void ab initio...," Teodoro said on ANC's "Headstart.”

 "The idea is to strengthen marriage, to provide the penal provision or define prohibited acts that would dissolve legal marriages.... And what are these acts? Meron kasing iba pumapasok sa kasal na talagang may intensyon na hindi magtagal ang kasal. Those who know they are doing an act of omission during their marriage, prior to that would be legal separation or declaration of nullity, failure to procure marriage license, or keeping solemnizing officer that has no authority over the parties."

"May mga gumagawa ng dahilan para mapabilis o makawala sa kasal na di dumadaan sa tamang proseso,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said their group is pushing for a divorce law even if the proposal is not on the Palace’s radar.

"That's their radar. Our radar is the need of our women and our people who have clamored for another option," she said.

"We call it Pinoy or Filipino-style dahil there should be at least one of five conditions: if the couple has been separated at least five years and there's no chance of reconciliation, ibigay na yung divorce; at the time of the filing of divorce, legally separated na for at least two years; those who are psychologically-incapacitated; the grounds of legal separation (abandonment, marital infidelity, domestic violence) are present; and irreconcilable differences."

Figures from the Office of the Solicitor General show the number of nullity cases grew from 4,520 in 2001 to 8,283 in 2010.

Statistics also show most cases were filed by the wife (61%, husband 39%) with 34.72% of marriages 1 to 5 years long, 26.04% of them 6 to 10 years long.

Legal remedy

Citing present-day realities, Ilagan, author of the Divorce Bill, said spouses should have another legal remedy out of unhappy marriages and abusive relationships.

"There are some individuals who do not want annulment because one has to be declared psychologically incapacitated. Majority of these people cannot afford annulment which is very expensive... Pangalawa, yung legal separation is not enough,” she said.

Attorney James Imbong, however, said divorce as an option would be subject to abuse.

"It's so easy to simulate the ground for divorce. Imagine saying ‘I do’ but at the back of your head, you know and you have a law there. Imagine everyone getting into the institution of marriage knowing there is a way out,” he said.

Imbong, who filed a petition against the Reproductive Health law at the Supreme Court, claims some countries like the United States that have legalized divorce are now trying to reverse what he calls "their mistake" through Defense of Marriage Statutes or Acts.

The lawyer said the nature of family in the Philippines, as a basic unit of society, is protected by law. He said the immediate effect of a divorce law is the breaking up of families.

“There are foundational principles we have to preserve even if there are broken marriages... The nature of this institution has to be upheld,” he said.

"Outside of Muslim laws, and 80% of us are Christian, the tradition is we respect the institution of marriage."

Divorce bill respects marriage

But contrary to claims a divorce bill would be an attack on the institution of marriage, Ilagan argues it actually respects it.

"This bill actually respects the sanctity of marriage kasi ayaw natin ganoong sitwasyong, mga tao nagtitiisan na lang. They live together without the benefits of marriage because they have no other choice,” she said.

"If the argument is that you are destroying marriage by allowing people to go on, allowing somebody to be battered daily, allowing somebody - a man - to be unfaithful, abusing the woman and the woman has to accept this and even take the blame for the failure of the marriage, I think that is going against the sanctity of the relationship, the respect one should have for each other."

Amid two opposing sides of the divorce debate, Imbong said he is leaving it all up to the wisdom of legislators.

"We have to trust them, they have to debate on the common good... the social cost of granting a law such as this," he said.