House defers divorce bill transmission to Senate

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
House defers divorce bill transmission to Senate
House of Representatives on July 6, 2023
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — The secretariat of the of the House of Representatives will hold transmitting House Bill 9349, or the Absolute Divorce Act, to the Senate pending the questions on how the votes of its members were counted.

According to House secretary general Reginald Velasco, those questioning the vote count can raise their concerns when Congress resumes session on July 22.

“Those (questions) can be discussed in the plenary when the session resumes. But for now, we will not transmit the bill to the Senate yet,” he told The STAR.

Velasco said the affirmative votes for the measures were adjusted because the secretariat was to count all of the votes favoring divorce in the country.

He noted there had been confusion during the nominal voting as House members were approaching the secretariat individually for their votes. “The secretariat just made a correction,” he said.

As to whether or not there were sufficient votes to approve the measure, he maintained this is up to the plenary to determine.

Bill OK challenged

Two members, who have been opposing the controversial divorce bill, have questioned the legitimacy of the measure’s passage on May 22, saying it was approved only by a “minority vote.”

Echoing the opinion of former Senate president Tito Sotto, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and CIBAC party-list Rep. Eddie Villanueva said House Bill 9349, or the Absolute Divorce Act, did not get the required votes to institute divorce in the country during plenary deliberation last Wednesday.

Rodriguez noted based on the final tally on the floor, it was officially announced that the controversial measure got 126 affirmative, 109 negative and 20 abstentions.

After this, he noted that Velasco issued an advisory setting the votes at 131-109-20.  

“There is an increase of five affirmative votes … This cannot be done as the period and process of voting was completed (May 22) evening when after the votes of each member were cast, these were tabulated and the Speaker (Martin Romualdez) announced the final vote on the floor and properly entered into the Journal,” he added.

For his part, Velasco explained that before the adjournment of session last Wednesday, it turned out that there were affirmative votes that were not recorded by the secretariat.

“The actual votes did not match what was reported by the secretariat. It was immediately corrected,” he pointed out.

The changes in voting were also questioned by Sotto, who posted on his X account that “If Congress is persistent in passing a very debatable law, they can at least follow the proper procedures so it won’t be questionable.”

“You knew I was right. You lost the vote. You massaged it after. How do you sleep at night doing what you do? You want to pass a debatable bill, do it properly,” he maintained.

For his part, Villanueva echoed that divorce bill was only approved by a minority vote. He said neither the 126 nor 131 votes represent half the number of House members.

The lawmaker also questioned Section 117 of the Rules of Procedure of the House of Representatives which provides that a majority of the number of those voting shall decide whether a measure is approved or not. This provision stated an abstention should not be counted as a vote.

Villanueva added this means the bill was approved “only due to an ambiguity in the rules of voting procedures in the House.” 

Church marriages

Should absolute divorce become a law, it would not cover marriages blessed by the Catholic church, Manila Archbishop Jose Cardinal Advincula declared yesterday.

“If indeed divorce becomes a law in our country in the future, let it be understood that it will only apply to civil marriages and not to sacramental marriages,” he said, as cited by a report from Church-run Radio Veritas.

“The fact remains that divorce is not the ultimate solution to problematic unions.”

Advincula said the passage of the absolute divorce bill “should not deter us from working doubly hard for the sake of marriage and the family.”

“We take it as a challenge to recalibrate our efforts in ministering to couples in difficult situations. There is a need to truly accompany them in their perilous journey as a couple and as a family,” he said. — Ghio Ong

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