"It won’t be an easy way out."
For the longest time, if I'm not mistaken, the party-list group Gabriela has been filing their own version of a divorce bill since they first entered the parliamentary arena. In the 18th Congress, they've already done so—again—as part of their key advocacies.
This time, they may yet succeed in getting what they've worked really hard to achieve. But maybe not exactly.
Banish the thought that the divorce bill approved recently by the House committee on population and family relations would pave the way for something like what Las Vegas has in place for a long time now: A no-fuss process that makes it quite easy for couples to disengage, or decouple.
According to Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, author of one of three divorce bills approved at the committee level in the House of Representatives, the measure has very strict requirements that would not be an easy way out of a rocky marriage.
The lawmaker explained that their bills have safety measures to ensure that only “exceptional cases” of couples with “irremediably damaged marriage” will benefit from this measure.
These safety measures include the provision that a prosecutor would be assigned to determine within six months after filing of the divorce petition if the grounds are valid or if there is collusion between parties, and that the court would also apply a judicial dispute resolution mechanism and try to reconcile the parties within this period.
Divorce is necessary, Lagman pointed out, because the current options under the Family Code—legal separation, annulment of marriage and declaration of nullity—do not give complete reliefs to qualified parties. Legal separation only grants separation “in bed and board” but does not grant severance of marriage bond, while annulment would allow remarriage only on grounds prior to or simultaneous to the solemnization of marriage.
On the other hand, “divorce will allow grounds that are supervening or during the marriage like marital infidelity, domestic violence, chronic gambling and engagement in illegal drugs and at the same time allow re-marriage,” he explained, adding that it would also offer protection to children who suffer and witness daily torment and stress.
Over at the Senate, most of the senators are against legalizing divorce and instead prefer to streamline the annulment process “allowed by our faith and belief,” according to Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri.
"What we don’t like about divorce is it seems to be an easy way out." He said shortening the process of Church-decreed annulment would be a “more accepted” option for his colleagues in the Senate.
“This is not as controversial as divorce,” he added.
He said Senate Bill No. 1059, which he filed in September last year, seeks to shorten and simplify the process of annulling marriages in the country by recognizing the civil effects of a Church-allowed annulment for couples who have irreconcilable differences.
Under the bill, the final judgment or decree of annulment or dissolution issued by the proper church or religious sect should be recorded with 30 days in the appropriate civil registry.
He said his proposal is also in line with Pope Francis’ call to make Church annulment shorter and easier to obtain.
"With how long the Church takes to annul a marriage and then after the Church annuls your marriage you then have to go through an eye of a needle, a very long and expensive process of the court to secure a state annulment, all in all [the process] could take as long as 10 years."
The Catholic Church, not surprisingly, is likely to use every available opportunity and every conceivable platform to ventilate its opposition to divorce.
Lay Catholic groups are standing firm against divorce. Among them is the Samahang Laiko ng Pilipinas, or the Council of the Laity of the Philippines, an association of various lay Catholic organizations, which said Congress must take action to strengthen families and not weaken them.
The group pointed out that marriage and family is a “gift” that should be protected" and that "the Philippines shall forever stand as a beacon of hope for the family and society.”
At the same time, the group said that while they recognize the plight of Filipinos suffering from failing marriages, family life family life organizations should “seek them out and accompany them with helpful interventions” such as education to inculcate the "values of life-long commitment and steadfast love.”
Among the organizations that have taken a strong stand against divorce are the Prayer Warriors of the Holy Souls, Human Life International—Philippines, Focolare New Families Movement, Alliance for the Family Foundation, Inc., Servants for Family Empowerment, Couples for Christ Foundation for Family and Life, ProLife Philippines, Catholic Grandparents Association, Worldwide Marriage Encounter—Philippines, and the Christian Family Movement.
With this big array of groups opposed to the divorce bill, Congress will certainly have its hands full listening to their arguments—and also to the counter-arguments of those pushing for its passage, such as Gabriela.