Legalizing divorce in the Philippines: What you need to know

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Legalizing divorce in the Philippines: What you need to know

Here's what you need to know about moves to legalize divorce in the Philippines—the only other country aside from the Vatican City where it is illegal to do so. 


MANILA, Philippines — March 19 marked a monumental day for advocates of divorce.

In a vote of 134-57, the lower house of Congress approved on third and final reading House Bill 7303 or "An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines."
Seen as a "pro-women legislation," the bill aims to legalize divorce in the Philippines—the only other country aside from the Vatican City where it is illegal to do so. 
The proposed measure pushed by progressive party-lists in Congress also saw support from two unlikely allies: opposition lawmaker Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay), the main sponsor of the bill, and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of its co-authors.
Here's what you need to know about moves to legalize divorce in the Philippines.

1. What options are available for Filipinos who want to get out of marriage?

Currently, the only legal recourse available to Filipinos who want to exit a failed union is through an annulment or a petition for legal separation. These two options have different grounds and end results.
Under the Family Code of the Philippines, a marriage may be annulled if any of the following grounds exist: lack of parental consent, psychological incapacity, fraud, marriage by force or intimidation, inability to consummate the marriage and if one party has contracted a sexually-transmissible disease. The 1987 Family Code was introduced under the presidency of Corazon Aquino.
Those seeking annulment must undergo a mental exam, testify in court and sometimes even claim they or their spouse entered the union while afflicted by a psychological disorder. The process can cost at least P250,000 and take anywhere from one to 10 years given the congestion in Philippine court dockets.
Meanwhile, a petition for legal separation requires any of the following grounds: repeated physical abuse from partner, coercion to change religious or political affiliation, attempt of respondent to corrupt petitioner or their child to engage in prostitution, respondent meted with imprisonment of more than 6 years, drug addiction of spouse, lesbianism or homosexuality, bigamous marriage, sexual infidelity or perversion, attempt against the life of spouse and abandonment without justifiable cause for more than a year.
If the petition is granted, the couple may live separately from each other. The conjugal partnership is also dissolved, but the marriage bonds are still in effect.
Annulment also allows remarriage but legal separation does not.

2. Why is there no divorce law in the Philippines?

Across the globe, the Philippines and the Vatican are the only states without divorce but allow the annulment of marriages. The Vatican is an independent state headed by the pope, who also heads the Catholic Church. The Philippines, meanwhile, is a predominantly Catholic country. Majority of couples also opt to marry in church. 
A week before the Divorce Bill got the approval of the lower house, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued a statement calling for "more reasoned debates on the issue."
The CBCP warned that lawmakers packaged divorce as an "easy option," which may result in marriages and families breaking up more easily.
"We merely ask that they consider the possibility that divorce, while it may indeed provide quick legal remedies for some seemingly 'failed marriages,' might end up destroying even those marriages that could have been saved by dialogues or the intervention of family, friends, pastors and counselors," Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the CBCP, said.
The CBCP, however, cannot participate in the bill's interpellations. Some also raised the separation of the Church and State as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.
Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus in a statement after the bill hurdled the lower house reiterated calls for its legalization.
"Ang pagpasok sa kontrata ng kasal, na kinikilala ng estado ay isang karapatan. Karapatang may karampatang obligasyong kailangan tuparin ng dalawang panig. Dapat naroroon ang pagmamahalan, paggalang, suporta at iba pang factors na magbibigay ng kaligayahan at kalusugan sa kanilang relasyon," she said.
(Entering the contract of marriage, that is recognized by the state, is a right. A right that has corresponding obligations which must be met by both sides. There should be love, respect, support and other factors that ensure a happy and healthy relationship.) 
"Kapag may paglabag sa mga obligasyong ito, na kung minsang umaabot pa sa puntong nakataya na ang buhay at katinuan sa pagitan ng mag-asawa, marapat lamang na kilalanin din ng estado ang karapatan na wakasan ang kontrata at karapatang umalis sa relasyon."
(If there are violations of these obligations, that sometimes even endangers the life and sanity of the couple, it is just for the state to also recognize their right to end the contract and exit the failed relationship.)
Gabriela Women's Party has been pushing for the legalization of divorce since the 13th Congress when it first secured seats in the lower chamber.
Muslims in the Philippines, however, are not covered by the ban on divorce. Presidential Decree No. 1083, signed by the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr., provides that a couple married under the Muslim laws "have the right to divorce."

3. How did the divorce bill fare in past administrations?

This was the first time that a proposal to institute divorce in Philippine laws reached the plenary of the lower house.
Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) is the main sponsor of the bill. It was approved on March 19.
The divorce bill was first introduced during the 13th Congress in 2005. Bills pushing for divorce was also filed by lawmakers for the 14th, 15th and 16th Congress.
For the 15th Congress, then-Rep. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro) and Rep. Marlyn Primicias-Agabas (Pangasinan) sponsored House Bill 4368 that seeks to "harmonize" the Family Code "with recent rulings of the SC on divorce obtained by the alien spouse in another country." The House plenary approved the said bill on Sept. 26, 2012, and was received by the Senate on the same day.
Then Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan also filed a bill to amend the Family Code and introduce divorce. The bill was referred to the Committee on Revision of Laws on Jan. 26, 2011.
Five similar bills on divorce were also filed during the 16th Congress. The Ilagan-sponsored bill has been pending with the Committee on Population and Family Relations since May 20, 2014.

4. What are the pertinent details of HB 7303?

House Bill 7303 aims to make divorce more accessible to a wider range of couples seeking liberty from irreparable marriage. 
It provides that the "State shall assure that the court proceedings for the grant of absolute divorce shall be affordable and inexpensive, particularly for court assisted litigants and petitioners."
The proposed measure also pushes for a pro-women legislation as the bill notes that in most cases of irreparable marriages it is the wife who is entitled to liberation from an abusive relationship.
The status of the children of divorced couples also takes precedence. A joint petition for divorce should include a plan for parenthood that details support, parental authority, custody and living arrangements of the common children.
For the legitimate and adopted children of divorced spouses, they will retain their legal status after the petition for divorce is granted. A child born or conceived within 300 days after filing for divorce is also considered a legitimate child, except when the basis for divorce is marital infidelity of the wife.
The bill also proposes that divorced spouses shall have the right to remarry.
It also prioritizes filing of Filipinos working abroad.
One of the grounds under the proposed bill is when "one of the spouses undergoes a gender reassignment surgery." Other grounds include:
  • reasons stated under legal separation and annulment under the Family Code
  • separation of spouses for at least five years
  • legal separation by judicial decree for at least two years
  • psychological incapacity
  • irreconcilable marital differences
The bill also seeks to penalize a spouse found guilty of coercing his or her partner into marriage. The respondent will face imprisonment of five years and a fine of P200,000.

5. So what's next for the divorce bill? 

The Senate is due to receive the bill approved by the lower house. But it is expected to face a tougher passage there with several senators publicly stating their opposition.
Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, a party-mate of President Rodrigo Duterte, had earlier said that he is more inclined to add more grounds for annulment than push for divorce.
Should the two chambers of Congress approve the same version of the bill, it would be elevated to Malacañang for the signature of the president. Duterte, however, might veto a Congress-approved divorce bill as he has been vocal of his disapproval of it. During the March 2016 presidential debates, Duterte has thumbed down divorce. 
Hours before the voting at the lower house, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque reiterated Duterte's stance against it.
The 72-year-old Philippine leader has separated from his estranged wife through annulment long before he was elected president. — with a report from AFP


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