Divorce bill revived in Congress

by Caroline J. Howard, ABS-CBN News Channel

Posted at Aug 11 2010 12:34 PM | Updated as of Aug 14 2010 11:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Party-list group Gabriela has revived the Divorce Bill in Congress.

Gabriela Representative Emmi de Jesus said divorce is a more affordable option than annulment, for which the ground of psychological incapacity is often difficult to prove.

Problems with annulment

Family law expert Atty. Evelyn Ursua said there are many problems that come with having a marriage annulled.

"Conceptually, it's problematic. We do creative interpretation. It encourages corruption. It's a tedious and expensive process. Almost all the cases that reach the Supreme Court were denied petition for declaration of nullity, except in very few cases. Kung sufficient ang remedy na 'yan, we would not propose a divorce bill," she said in an interview with ANC's Headstart on Wednesday.

Ursua estimated the cost of divorce proceedings to run up to P300,000 or below minus the cost of clinical psychologists.

She admitted that given the tediousness of annulment proceedings, they have been riddled with the practice of paying off people involved in the process, including psychology experts, to get a decree of annulment on the ground of psychological incapacity.

Ursua noted that adultery is not a ground for annulment, and concerned parties have to show that it is a manifestation of a psychological disorder that constitutes psychological incapacity to perform the essential marital obligations.

Given the range of problems and difficulties that come with having a marriage annulled, Ursua believes divorce may be a more practical remedy for Filipinos who need to get out of a bad marriage.

Grounds for divorce

Ursua said there are also more specific and quantifiable grounds for divorce.

These include:
1) separation in fact: parties separated for 5 years wherein reconciliation is highly improbable;
2) legal separation for at least 2 years wherein reconciliation is highly improbable;
3) when the grounds for legal separation cause the irreparable breakdown of the marriage;
4) psychological incapacity; and,
5) when parties suffer from irreconcilable differences that cause the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.

Ursua noted divorce also provides a period of support.

"For a period of one year, pwede humingi ng support ang isang party, depending on their financial capacity, to give the spouse time to look for work and regain lost ground," Ursua said, adding divorce will not affect the children's right to parental support.

Church opposition vs. public clamor

Despite such perceived advantages, the measure is expected to meet opposition from the Catholic church.

Bishop Oscar Cruz has said, in the absence of divorce, the church can declare a marriage void if domestic violence is proven.

Currently, divorce is allowed in Italy, home of the Vatican, where the law of the state is separate from the Church law.

Despite such opposition to the measure, Ursua believes there is strong public clamor for a divorce bill. She called on the public to voice its support to the measure for it to gain ground, and not to leave the measure to the country's legislators alone.

Ursua also hopes the Church and the State see the need to provide couples with a solution to a problematic marriage.

"There's no prohibition in the Constitution against the legalization of divorce. The state law should not discriminate and prefer one religious belief against another," she explained.

Conservatives have called for the need to strengthen families, saying making divorce available may only encourage couples to separate.

Ursua disagreed. "We should trust the cultural restraints in Philippine society, the value given to marriage and family, but we need to give remedies to people who need to terminate a failed marriage."

Divorce in the Philippines

Historically, Ursua noted, divorce was practiced in the Philippines under the 1935 Constitution before it was removed in the New Civil Code.

"We used to have a divorce law in the Philippines before August 30, 1950," Ursua said, adding former Vice President Arturo Tolentino was among the Filipinos who availed of it and remarried before the law was changed.

To this day, Ursua added, the remedy is available for those under the Muslim law.

"The Muslim Filipinos have divorce under the Muslim code so it's only non-Muslim Filipinos who can't avail of divorce at this time."

The Philippines and Malta are the only two countries in the world that don't allow divorce.

As debates are expected to heat up on the Divorce Bill, in the same way as the Reproductive Health Bill, time will tell whether the measure gains ground in a country where family unity is held as sacred, if not more so than the very rite of marriage.