EDITORIAL - Present realities

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Present realities

Is the Philippines ready for divorce?

On the day of hearts this month, a senior associate justice of the Supreme Court tackled unhappy marriages, and the difficulty of getting out of them in the Philippines. Justice Marvic Leonen pointed out that divorce used to be allowed in this archipelago, until it was banned by Spanish colonizers.

Spain legalized absolute divorce in July 1981. Its former Asian colony is now the only country outside the Vatican where divorce is illegal. This should be a matter of pride for the predominantly Catholic Philippines, according to the Roman Catholic Church, which allows a so-called Catholic divorce mostly for couples with the time and enormous funds needed for the process.

Leonen, on the other hand, observed in his lecture on Feb. 14 at the University of the Philippines College of Law in Diliman: “Marriage as the foundation of the family no longer reflects the present realities and sensitivities of many Filipino families.” The Philippines, he said, remains stuck in an “antiquated form from our colonial past.”

Numerous divorce bills have been filed in almost every Congress since the restoration of democracy in 1986, with women’s groups among the prime supporters. Women who suffer domestic violence and other forms of abuse stand to be among the major beneficiaries of absolute divorce. But all the proposals died as lawmakers bowed to opposition from the Catholic Church, although some women’s groups suspected that the male-dominated Congress simply didn’t want alimony payments.

Proponents have lamented that in the absence of absolute divorce, men simply maintain mistresses and second or even multiple families. Joseph Estrada made no secret of this setup in his life even during his presidency, acknowledging at least four women with whom he has children. Rodrigo Duterte’s partner acted as first lady instead of his estranged wife during his presidency. Even under their watch, however, their congressional allies couldn’t pass a measure legalizing divorce.

Leonen, in his lecture that tackled the legal and political foundations of restrictions on intimacies and relationships in this country, also took issue with the use of “psychological incapacity” as a basis for marriage annulments. Those who suffer in failed marriages, he said, must not be “pathologized.”

Last year, a panel of the House of Representatives approved “in principle” for consolidation eight bills seeking to legalize divorce and dissolution of marriage. Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, who heads the technical working group that will consolidate the proposals, said absolute divorce “is urgently necessary in exceptional cases for couples in inordinately toxic and irreparably dysfunctional marriages, particularly the wives who are abused or abandoned.” The state, he said, “has the responsibility of rescuing couples and their children from a house on fire.”

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