The House of Representatives Committee on Population and Family Relations made history as it submitted a divorce bill for plenary deliberations for the first time.
The committee approved a substitute bill that consolidated all proposals to legalize divorce and dissolution of marriage.
The approval by the committee came after the substitute bill was transmitted by the technical working group led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, also an author of the Reproductive Health Law in the 15th Congress.
“You recall yung reproductive health bill, gusto nila palitan ng responsible parenthood. We married the 2 proposals and now it's known as the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood law," he said.
Gabriela Party-list Rep. Emmy de Jesus said they insisted on the use of the word divorce amid the concerns of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez that there may be sectors who will object to the use of the word.
"Technically naman talaga, yung konsepto ng diborsyo, nagpapawala ng bisa ng kasal pero ang paggamit ng salitang divorce ay isang pag-aangat din ng kamalayan ng publiko na tanggapin na yung salitang divorce," she said.
Lagman explained that another compromise adopted is the option to pay alimony one time or periodically.
"Most probably, this would depend on the means of the spouse who's supposed to give alimony and also the needs of the recipient," he said.
Lagman added that another compromise is the option for when the presumptive legitime or legal right share can be given to the children.
“In the original formulation in the substitute bill, the presumptive legitime will be given to the children upon the dissolution of marriage but in the compromise, again there's option whether it will be given at the time of the dissolution of marriage or where there is already a dead parent, patay na," he said.
The authors devoted a lot of time explaining why this bill will be friendly to indigents. For one, the bill will allow some grounds for divorce to be settled through summary proceedings instead of a full-blown trial.
Lagman said, “sa summary judicial proceedings, in addition to the 5 already mentioned, we also included when there's joint petition of the spouses but the joint petition will have to be based on any of the grounds provided for under the act, you cannot deviate or have any other ground except as provided for in the act.”
SUMMARY PROCEEDINGS, FEES
The grounds that may be covered by summary proceedings are:
- when the spouses have been separated de facto for at least 5 years;
- when one of the spouses contracted a bigamous marriage;
- when the spouses have been legally separated by judicial decree for 2 years of more;
- when one of the spouses has been sentenced to imprisonment for 6 years even if subsequently pardoned; and,
- when one of the spouses has undergone sex reassignment surgery.
The bill will also waive filing fees for indigents and allow the court to appoint a counsel de oficio and psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker.
Lagman added, “it's good you asked that question because this is a new question. We have provided that the indigent petitioner will be exempt from payment of filing fees and counsel de oficio. She or he will be afforded counsel de officio and the court can assign a social worker a psychiatrist or a psychologist a social worker that will assist the court.”
The bill defined indigents to be couples who have real property of not more than P5 million, which was the suggestion of Alvarez.
CONSULTATION WITH OFWs, DIPLOMATS
Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano said this was based on public consultations.
"It might sound strange now, P5 million. This is based on the public consultation we had with a lot of OFWs and even Filipinos here that you may be gainfully employed, you may be earning 20,000 a month but you will not spend that money on a divorce you badly need," she said.
"They would rather continue the status quo and not obtain a divorce because it is beyond their capacity to pay so in all the public consultations we had, that was the request na please make a bill that's accessible to us, that is affordable to us."
Cayetano appealed to all lawmakers to listen to the public pulse.
“Not everyone is a pro-divorce advocate in the committee and after attending public consultations abroad and here, I'd like to believe that everyone in attendance felt the need and understood the need for this bill. Yun lang naman ang pakiusap ko sa lahat ng legislator, whether in the House or my former colleagues in the Senate, pakinggan nila mga tao at mga concerns ng mga tao, bakit nila kailangan ito," she said.
Alvarez, for his part, welcomed the development and thanked those behind it.
“Well, nagpapasalamat ako doon sa committee dahil nga sa dami ng nakikiusap na kahit sa social media, paulit-ulit finafollow up yung dissolution of marriage. Mabuti naman at talagang sinipagan nila ito," he said.
"They conducted committee hearings 'di lang dito sa ating bansa kung 'di pati na rin doon sa ibang bansa kung saan marami tayong OFW, ito talaga nirequest din ng karamihan ng mga OFW, kahit personnel natin sa DFA na nakassign sa abroad."
Alvarez noted that this bill garnered support from across party lines.
“Ngayon, itong panukalang batas, napakasignifcant din ito dahil dito lang nagsamasama yung majority, Makabayan bloc,” he said.
Alvarez said he expects plenary debates on the measure to begin next week.
"Well kanina, inaprubahan sa committee tapos I'm sure na gagawin na yung mga amendments na napagkasunduan kanina, pagkatapos siguro by next week, siguro baka pumasok na sa plenary," he said.