Hopes high for law that would legalize divorce in the Philippines

The predominantly Catholic Philippines is the only country in the world that has no divorce law. But advocates are hopeful that this is about to change as the House of Representatives holds plenary debates on a bill to finally allow divorce.

Manila  -  By Girlie Linao, – Eight years after she left her husband, Melody Alan still gets nervous when she hears raised voices. Her former partner often shouted at her and turned violent when drunk.
The 44-year-old mother of four boys said she endured the physical violence, psychological abuse and womanizing of her husband - as well as his failure to provide for the family - because she didn’t want her marriage to fail.
“I won’t be a hypocrite, I loved him and it was painful for me that our marriage did not work out,” Alan said. “I suffered for 14 years, and tried everything to fix the problem.”
In the end, it was her eldest son who told her to let go.
“The last straw was when I caught my ex-husband using drugs at our home when our sons were there,” she said. “At that point, my eldest son told me that I should just leave him.”
Alan’s husband now has two children with another woman, and, while she has remained single, she said she is not closing the door on a new relationship.
But neither of them can get married again, unless they file for annulment, a tedious and expensive court procedure because divorce is not allowed in the Philippines, the largest predominantly Catholic country in Asia.
Outside of the Vatican, the Philippines is the only country in the world that has no option for divorce, which severs a marriage and allows both ex-spouses to remarry.
While there have been attempts to enact a divorce law since the mid-1990s, strong opposition from the influential Catholic Church and its affiliates has successfully blocked these efforts.
For the first time in more than two decades, proponents of divorce are hoping the tide will change under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose allies in Congress are pushing for the law.
“We feel positive the divorce law will pass because finally lawmakers are listening to our stories,” said Alan, secretary general of the support and lobby group Divorce Advocates of the Philippines.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the bill "instituting absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage in the Philippines." 
But there is no counterpart bill at the Senate, where the advocates still face an uphill battle. Duterte, who personally opposes divorce, can let the bill pass into law by not using his veto power.
“It is about time to have absolute divorce in the Philippines, as it is appropriate to the changing times,” Alan said.
The Catholic Church warned that such a quick legal remedy to failed marriages could end up destroying unions that could still be saved by counselling or interventions.
“In a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriages and families are bound to break up more easily,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
“More children will grow up disoriented and deprived of the care of both parents,” he added, as the group of Catholic bishops called on legislators to hold more consultations on the bill.
Philippine laws currently allow couples to opt for legal separation or annulment when breaking up.
But annulment declares the marriage to be null and void from the start and changes the legal status of children of such dissolved unions to illegitimate or born out of wedlock until they are adopted by one of the ex-spouses.
Legal separation, on the other hand, does not allow both parties to remarry because they are supposedly unfit to be husband or wife, hence the marriage is ended.
Under the proposed law, married couples may file for divorce for such reasons as abuse, infidelity and irreconcilable differences – similar to the grounds of annulment and legal separation.
But the bill allows spouses to jointly petition for divorce, eliminating “costly and cumbersome” court proceedings that pit couples against each other when they opt for annulment or legal separation.
Spouses who have been separated for at least two to five years are also allowed to summarily file for divorce.
Lawmakers noted that one of the objectives of allowing summary proceedings for divorce petitions in the proposed law is “to protect the children from the pain and stress resulting from their parents’ marital problems.”
For Eric Baltazar, a 39-year-old father of two who has been estranged from his wife for 16 years, allowing divorce in the Philippines has no impact on the strength of a family.
“Whether there is divorce or not, the stability of a relationship will depend on the two people in it,” he said. “Hopefully with divorce, there will be less children growing up seeing their parents fight and hurt each other.”
“I believe damage to the children could be worse if they see that their parents do not respect each other,” he added.


Tuesday, March 20th 2018
By Girlie Linao,

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