The Philippines and the Vatican are the only two states in the world without a divorce law, and while the Vatican is not expected to pass one for obvious reasons, the Philippines should.
For many couples whose marriages have failed for whatever reason, the lack of a divorce law is cause for frustration and a sense of unfairness, because divorce is a right enjoyed in all other countries, where for the most part it is affordable, convenient, and easy to access.
Yet these same positive factors that make obtaining a divorce trouble-free, detractors say, will lead to the detriment of the institutions of marriage and the family, and ultimately society.
How can a marriage last, they argue, when at the slightest sign of difficulty or adversity, one spouse or the other can easily leave it? Marriage is not, the saying goes, like hot rice that is spat out when it burns the tongue. The first few years are often rocky as spouses go through an adjustment period, and crises flare up as they go through life. It is the tough times, they insist, that strengthen a marriage.
But this is a simplistic view that fails to take into account other problems that make it not just expedient but necessary for a couple to part ways. One of them is domestic violence.
The Philippine Commission on Women website cites statistics from the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey, which found that “one in five women aged 15 to 49 has experienced physical violence since age 15; 14.4 percent of married women have experienced physical abuse from their husbands; and more than one-third (37 percent) of separated or widowed women have experienced physical violence, implying that domestic violence could be the reason for separation or annulment.”
That last phrase is most telling. These are findings of a government agency, and should be among the reasons for a careful and ultimately positive consideration of a divorce bill.
Before the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act was enacted, it was difficult for an ordinary person to seek legal redress in domestic violence cases. For instance, in the early 2000s, a policeman at a Makati City precinct told me that wife-beating was “away mag-asawa”—a fight between a married couple—and that they could not intervene.
Around that same time, I discussed the matter of domestic violence with wealthy members of an upscale church in Makati City. One woman vehemently denied my narrative, saying she could not imagine a husband beating his wife, nor a father his daughter. I glanced at her pricey Epi leather Louis Vuitton handbag and figured this was a woman of privilege who had grown up loved and coddled by the men in her family.
But just because what I described was not part of her reality does not mean it was untrue. It just meant that she was a person who had little experience and knowledge of the world outside of her elitist enclave.
This is similar to the mindset of many detractors of the divorce bill. Because they are Catolico cerrado, or have not been held down by the neck and punched repeatedly in the body so that no marks or bruises will show to other people, or have not stayed up all night waiting for a spouse who is spending it with someone else, they see no reason for having a law that will set free victims of violence, infidelity, and other indignities and cruelties.
They only see their side—that a divorce bill would be against their religion’s tenets or their own sensibilities and customs. This is insensitivity to the plight of others.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s proposed bill on the dissolution of marriage is a progression of all the divorce bills that other lawmakers have drafted throughout the years. While it seems self-serving—Alvarez has admitted to an extramarital relationship—it is still something that can transform for the better the lives of many Filipinos trapped in shattered marriages.
Alvarez has neatly sidestepped the contentious issue of divorce by using the term “dissolution of marriage.” Both terms mean the same, but the latter perhaps is more palatable to nitpicking naysayers.
Whatever it’s called, as long as the outcome is what is needed, then pass it already. It’s long overdue.
Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. FB: Jenny Ortuoste, Twitter: @jennyortuoste, IG: @jensdecember, @artuoste