Divorce bill likely to be challenged before SC

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 01 2011 11:14 PM | Updated as of Jun 02 2011 12:36 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas believes the divorce bill of Gabriela Women’s Party-list will not pass the House of Representatives. If it does, he said he is ready to challenge it before the Supreme Court.

Speaking before the first  hearing of the House Committee on Revision of Codes, Fariñas said lawmakers may be discouraged from voting for the bill since their spouses may take affirmative votes personally against the lawmakers.

“May kasabihan sa Ingles, 'if it ain't broke, don’t fix it'. Pag may violence against women, pwede mo hiwalayan mister mo. Wag na kayo magpakasal kasi kasal for better or for worse...Ayusin natin. Wag mo itapon. Palagay ko ito di lulusot sa floor dahil magagalit misis at mga mister kasi sasabihin may intensyon ka diyan. Dun pa lang medyo tagilid ka na," Fariñas told the committee this albeit in jest.

The lawmaker said the divorce bill is unconstitutional and indicated he plans to challenge it before the High Court should it pass the Lower House.

He noted that couples who physically assault each other can apply for legal separation.

Gabriela party-list representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerciana de Jesus faced the committee as principal authors of the measure.

It was a hearing that began with a silent prayer, called by acting committee chairman Mercedes Alvarez since Chairman Marlyn Primicias Agabas is away on official business overseas.

'Filipino-style divorce'

After first deliberating on other proposed amendments to the Family Code of the Philippines, Alvarez reflected the anticipation on the deliberations for the deliberations on the divorce bill by introducing it as “what we’ve been waiting for.”

Ilagan delivered her opening remarks, calling her bill as divorce "Filipino-style." She dispelled fears that it will lead to a violation of the sanctity of marriage and abuses since it is based on their studies on concrete experiences of Filipino women.

“The bill is uniquely Filipino, not modeled after the  divorce system of other countries," she said.

Ilagan said the grounds for divorce listed in her bill are:

1. couples who have been de facto separated for 5 years;
2. couples who have been legally separated for 2 years at the time of filing of the petition for divorce and reconciliation is improbable;
3. when one or both partners are psychologically incapacitated;
4.  when spouses have irreconcilable differences that cause the breakdown of the marriage;
5. when marriage has reached the point of no repair.

Ilagan said the bill provides for equity between spouses, division of assets between spouses and  dissolution of absolute community. It also recognizes divorces obtained overseas.

De Jesus said the bill was crafted based on their experiences as a group at the ground level, dealing with women.

“[There are] Various cases of violence inside a relationship. One remedy is they would like to...get out of marriage na si di sila mastigmatize," she said.

Divorce ala Liz Taylor

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, meanwhile, criticized the bill. This despite being author to a bill recognizing divorces of Filipinos and foreign nationals obtained overseas under certain conditions.

Rodriguez said divorce violates constitutional provisions protecting the sanctity of marriage.

"A bill like this will open floodgates for 'irreconcilable differences', which may be disputes on minor matters? People have high pride. They would quarrel and in-laws would come in. There are also cases with violence (where) we have legal separation," he said.

The congressman cited celebrities overseas who have been divorced several times, particularly Elizabeth Taylor who reportedly had 6 divorces.

Ilagan countered that, in cases of legal separation, exes cannot remarry and risk concubinage or adultery.

"Since we already have couples already separated de facto, they are unable to move on,” she said.

She said the divorce bill may even strengthen the sanctity of marriage because people will not take the institution for granted.

“It's the reality of human nature. There are failed marriages and factors may come out after marriage."

Ilagan’s Gabriela colleague, former congressman Liza Maza, also weighed in. Maza first filed a similar bill in previous congresses.

Maza said that before the 1950’s, the Philippines had divorce laws during tribal times, and during the American and Japanese times in the Philippines.

She argued divorce under Moros is also legal.

'Why get married at all?'

Jo Imbong of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines questioned the constitutionality and benefits of divorce.

“The truth of the matter is - with these possibilities of getting rid of a valid marriage, why get married at all? Would it not be proper to ask how many marriages, families and homes can one dissolve break and abandon? How many divorces can one have. How many spouses may want to continue abuse, violate and abandon? Divorce begets divorce.”

Lawyer Evalyn Ursua, faculty member of the UP Law Center, backed the divorce bill, saying there is no prohibition against a divorce law in the constitution.

Gabriela presented 2 community women to give a human face to the lobby for a divorce law.

Elizabeth Maynigo said she favors divorce for spouses who are in unhappy marriages. Elsie Tabis added that a divorce law would benefit women who are beaten up by their husbands.

"Wala silang pera para makipaghiwalay. Tingin ko siguro ito remedyo para maalis na sila sa binubugbog sila ng asawa nila," Tabis said.

Maynigo’s comment draw emphatic reactions from lawmakers who latched on to it to torpedo the bill.

"(Elizabeth’s ) testimony is the problem we will find, just because husband and wife are not happy, we now open the floodgates for  the basic ground for divorce. That's precisely what we would like to warn against," Rodriguez said.

Ilagan said she is OK with sitting down with colleagues to come up with better definitions of irreconcilable differences to guard against abuse.

Cheaper annulment

Earlier in the hearing, the committee also tackled other proposed amending portions of the Family Code of the Philippines also related to marriage.

These include  Rep. Neri Colmenares’ HB 3952 – Recognizing spousal violence, infidelity and abandonment as presumptive psychological incapacity constituting a ground for the annulment of marriage, amending Art. 36 of EO 209.

Colmenares’ bill sought to make annulment a cheaper process by doing away with the requirement for psychological/psychiatric evaluation on what constitutes psychological incapacity if a spouse is violent.

The Justice Department’s representative, Maria Cristina Abalos, called for more studies on Colmenares’ bill.

Rodriguez observed that Colmenares’ bill was practically a divorce bill.