Divorce laws were reportedly introduced in previous legislatures but not enacted. The bill, which has just been passed, has the support of the Speaker of the House, according to MP Edcel Lagman, a supporter of the recently passed bill. But a bill passed by the Philippine House of Representatives in March gives divorce advocates hope. It would allow divorce for a variety of reasons, including irreconcilable differences, abuse, infidelity, and abandonment. All that remained were the Philippines and the small Mediterranean island nation of Malta (and, of course, the independent but largely celibate Vatican City State). In 2011, Malta held a referendum on divorce. The Church has gone out of its way in a particularly nasty campaign against legalization, but has fallen short. Shortly after the referendum, the Archbishop of Malta apologised for the Church`s harsh attacks on divorce campaigners. While the Philippines is one of two countries in the world where divorce is illegal – the other being Vatican City – the country is taking steps towards legalizing it. A bill that would legalize divorce in the Philippines is now before the legislature, but it is unlikely to become law without the support of President Benigno Aquino III, who has declared divorce a “no-no” for the nation of the archipelago. Aquino, a single and practicing Catholic, said he didn`t want the Philippines to become like Las Vegas, where “you get married in the morning [and] you get divorced in the afternoon.” According to the announcement, the Philippines and the Vatican are currently the only two sovereign states in the world that still prohibit divorce. The announcement also stated that the approved bill contained the following grounds that can be invoked to file for divorce: The ongoing struggle does not bode well for the divorce legalization bill currently before Congress.
Mr Duterte`s own marriage was annulled after a court ruled that he was so business-inclined that his wife of 27 years had been only nominal. But religious opposition to the law is so strong that even Mr. Duterte does not support it. Still, says Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, the ongoing attempts to introduce liberal bills despite their slim chances of success are an encouraging sign in themselves. ■ The absence of legal divorce in the Philippines exacerbates class and gender inequalities. Under the current system, only the upper class can afford the legal means to inquire about the dissolution of unsuccessful marriages, let alone the length of the process required for legal separation. This emphasis on protecting the sanctity of marriage above all else also normalizes domestic violence, which is mainly experienced by women through verbal and sexual harassment and by children through exposure to parental conflict. In addition, the absence of divorce reflects the legislator`s lack of protection for women who are abused and unable to escape their horrific reality of marriage. Former Senator Revilla, who probably contributed more than anyone else to this problem, at least acknowledged it and tried to do something about it. He is the father of the so-called Revilla bill, which allows illegitimate children to legally use their father`s surname as long as both biological parents give their consent. A divorce bill passed the country`s lower house in March this year, despite opposition from President Rodrigo Duterte, who also had a failed marriage.
In a predominantly Catholic country, the strong position of the Church may be the main reason why the Philippines, along with Vatican City, is one of the few sovereign states to prohibit divorce. While Vatican City has only 900 inhabitants, most people being members of the clergy, the Philippines is home to more than a hundred million people. The Philippines also recorded 431,972 marriages in 2019. Several previous policy attempts to legalize divorce, including the Divorce Act of 2019, remain unsuccessful due to strong traditional family norms in the Philippines. Those who oppose divorce see it as a threat to the sanctity of marriage, but the question remains: what is there to protect in an already broken relationship? The Church and her faithful, De Jesus argues, have the right to believe in the sanctity of marriage, but do not have the right to impose these beliefs on others who disagree. The state, she added, should view divorce not as a reprehensible sin, but as a civil right. “The state should recognize that if you have the right to enter into a contract, you have the right to leave it,” De Jesus said. One of the results of the Church`s opposition to divorce and its opposition to virtually all forms of contraception has been millions of “illegitimate” children. No one knows the number, but one study suggests that about 30% of births in the Philippines go unregistered, often due to the stigma of illegitimacy.
This is not simply a legacy of colonialism or a reflection of Filipino piety. Compared to Mexico, another country long ruled by Spain and where four-fifths of the population considers themselves Catholic, the Philippines is tense. A constitutional amendment and new laws passed in 1974 guaranteed Mexicans access to contraceptives. Mexico City legalized civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2006 and abortion in 2007. Since then, 17 other Mexican states have legalized same-sex marriage. Things relaxed a bit when Americans became the new colonial masters after the Spanish-American War of 1898. A 1917 law allowed divorce, but only for adultery, if committed by the wife, or for “cohabitation” on the part of the husband. The Japanese introduced modern divorce laws during their otherwise horrific occupation of the Philippines during World War II, but these were repealed and the old 1917 law was restored when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur returned in 1944.
Six years later, after the Philippines gained independence and the Church regained its authority, the 1917 law was repealed and divorce was banned altogether. If enough Filipinos publicly show that they support a divorce bill, populist Duterte could join. Some observers suspect that giving people what they want while giving the Church a black eye, could be a second that Duterte simply cannot resist. Annulment differs from divorce in that the parties must prove that the marriage was flawed from the beginning: that one or both were too young to marry (the minimum age in the Philippines is 18; for Muslim men it is 15, for girls “puberty”); appropriate parental consent has not been obtained; one of the parties was already married or suffering from an incurable sexually transmitted disease; or, more often, was “mentally incompetent” at the time of marriage.
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