MANILA (UPDATED) – A bill legalizing absolute divorce in the Philippines is headed for the plenary of the House of Representatives after it was unanimously passed by the Committee on Population and Family Relations.
Under the proposal, the grounds for legal separation, annulment of marriage, and nullification of marriage based on psychological incapacity under the Family Code of the Philippines are included as grounds for absolute divorce.
The other grounds for divorce included in the bill are the following: separation in fact for at least five years at the time the petition for absolute divorce is filed; when one of the spouses undergoes a gender reassignment surgery or transitions from one sex to another; irreconcilable marital difference; other forms of domestic or marital abuse; valid foreign divorce secured by either the alien or Filipino spouse; and the nullification of a marriage by a recognized religious tribunal.
In a statement, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said the House panel’s passage of the bill marks "a momentous occasion for countless wives, who are battered and deserted, to regain their humanity, self-respect and freedom from irredeemably failed marriages and utterly dysfunctional unions."
Lagman noted that House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco is in favor of the enactment of a reinstituted absolute divorce measure.
Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (CIBAC) Party List Representative and House Deputy Speaker Bro. Eddie Villanueva, meanwhile, expressed dismay at the House panel's approval of the absolute divorce bill, saying it will be "disastrous for families".
"CIBAC firmly believes that any law that will effectively downplay the inviolability or the not-to-be-broken status of the family as a social institution is directly and inherently unconstitutional and contrary to the deeply-held Filipino value of preserving and fighting for marriage. Passing any measure that effectively negates this Constitutional mandate shall foster unabated decay in our families. Marriage, as an inviolate commitment, would now be reduced to a contractual relationship, subject to the whims of unscrupulous individuals," he said in a statement.
Villanueva also said that though he understands that there are some marriages that are hostile, he still believes that divorce will never be a solution to problematic unions.
"The legal remedies available such as legal separation, annulment, and declaration of nullity of marriage are sufficient to address them. The more pressing policy action right now is not the divorce bill, but government simply making existing remedies more accessible especially to the poor—by making the process cheaper and the resolution of cases faster," he added.
"Sadly, the divorce bill is a short-sighted solution to problematic marriages, which, actually, can be remedied through available legal options. It fails to see that offering couples ‘an expressway out of marriage’ will diminish the institution into a simplistic contractual relationship bereft of its pure meaning and call for lasting commitment. Injecting absolute divorce in the society is a sure formula for raising fatherless and motherless Filipino children. It will artificially manufacture reservations in the minds of future couples, who would be enabled to enter and exit marriage conveniently when their expectations are unmet. It will wreck families and spell disaster for Filipino children," Villanueva also said.
In the 17th Congress, House Bill 7303, which sought to institute absolute divorce in the country, also made it to the House plenary.
Last year, a House committee also approved three measures seeking to legalize divorce in the pre-dominantly Catholic Philippines, the only country in the world aside from the Vatican where it remains illegal.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also filed an "absolute divorce" bill in the upper chamber in 2019.
Philippine lawmakers have regularly filed a bill to legalize divorce since 1999.
– with reports from RG Cruz