Is the Philippines ready for divorce?

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2010 06:03 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2010 07:42 PM

MANILA, Philippines - All the nations in the world -- except the Philippines and Malta -- allow divorce.

In the meantime, troubled couples here in the Philippines turn to annulment, or the process of declaring a marriage null and void. Unlike divorce, which only terminates a bad marriage, an annulled union is treated as if it never existed.

But according to Atty. Alnie Foja, legal counsel of militant women's party-list Gabriela, this remedy isn't enough. For one, she said annulment doesn't recognize the problems and struggles that spouses go through during their marriage.

"Halimbawa, walang bisyo 'yung asawa nung niligawan tapos during the marriage nagkabisyo at nagsimulang mangbugbog. 'Yung grounds na ganyan hindi available sa pag-nullify ng marriage sa atin," Foja said in an interview on ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.

Gabriela has tried to file the Divorce Bill in Congress twice, and failed. But they're not losing hope.

In the said bill, there are 5 grounds for the termination of marriage -- if the spouses are already separated de facto (in practice, but not necessarily ordained by law) for 5 years and reconciliation is highly improbable; if the spouses are already legally separated for 2 years; if the marriage is no longer working; if one or both spouses have psychological incapacity; or if spouses have irreconcilable differences resulting to irreparable breakdown of the marriage.

Foja said the group will continue to fight so Filipinos, particularly abused wives, will have more options should they want to end a bad marriage.

Lawmaker on divorce: No thanks

Gabriela may have the best intentions, but is the Philippines, particularly Congress, ready to embrace the reality that not all marriages are meant to last?

Not Buhay party-list Rep. Irwin Tieng, who believes that the "sanctity of marriage and family should always be protected." According to him, divorce will only serve as a feasible exit strategy for spouses when things go awry in a marriage, discouraging them from trying to make the relationship work.

"Kaya hindi kami sang-ayon dito kasi kapag may divorce, parang papasok na lang ang tao sa isang bagay tapos kapag ayaw, lalabas na lang," he said.

Tieng was particularly referring to some cases in the United States, where some celebrities would get married and get divorced the next day.

If divorce were to be legalized in the country, he fears that people will become more irresponsible in making important decisions such as choosing a partner for marriage.

"Marami namang ibang paraan na hindi divorce. Pwedeng bago tayo ikasal, alamin muna natin ang ating partner, mag-attend tayo ng seminars at counseling bago tayo pumasok sa isang bagay na napakasagrado," he explained.

Moreover, Tieng said that a broken family will only negatively affect the kids psychologically. "Iba ang upbringing nila, pati pananaw nila. Let's maintain the sanctity of family," he said.

Asked if the Divorce Bill is likely to get support from Congress, Tieng said, "Maliit ang chance."

Sanctity of marriage?

Foja, for her part, stressed that contrary to what most people think, pushing for the legalization of divorce in the country doesn't equate to a lack of respect for the sanctity of marriage.

According to her, there are just some relationships that can no longer be fixed, such as those that involve wife-battering.

"May mga malinaw kaming batayan. Hindi naman namin ito kinuha lang dahil gusto lang namin ng divorce. May mga kababaihan sa buong bansa na nararamdaman nila na naghahangad sila ng dagdag na option para mapawalang-bisa ang kanilang kasal," she said.

She added, "Darating talaga minsan sa point na hindi na talaga kaya maiayos 'yung marriage, whether it be after 2 years, 2 decades or 40 years."

Foja also assured Tieng and the rest of the public that ending marriages won't be as casual as changing clothes -- each step will be properly guided by law, she said.

"Itong batas namin ay hindi 'no fault' divorce. Ito ay susuriin ng husgado kung talaga bang wala nang pag-asa na makipagbalikan. Mag-eexert muna ng effort ang husgado na magkabalikan sila," she explained.

She believes that spouses should be given a chance to learn from their mistakes, move on and grow, rather than be stuck in a marriage that only causes pain and suffering.

"Kung talagang sagad na at kailangan na dahil may mga nangyari during the marriage, kailangan ng option -- babae man o lalaki -- na umalis sa kasal na ito para maging buo ulit ang kanyang pagkatao," she said.