OPINION Philosophy of Law

Are you in favor of passing the Divorce law? Yes or no, why?

The proposed Divorce law “cannot undo centuries of dearly held Filipino customs and traditions honoring and celebrating marriage and the family[, m]arriage and the family are and will still be at the heart of the Filipino way of life.” -Rep. Edcel Lagman

Are you in favor in the passing of the Divorce law? Yes or no, why?

Yes. I am in favor of the passage of the Divorce law. The reason is anchored on two points: 1) My disagreement to the unnecessary influence of the Roman Catholic Church to the supposed political affairs of the State, and 2) The Pros outweigh the perceived Cons. 

At present, the Philippines and the Vatican are the only two sovereign states in the world that still prohibit divorce.[1] Just reading the preceding paragraph stresses one’s senses in that it shows absurdity. Vatican, being the seat of the Roman Catholic Church is understandable to be prohibiting divorce, not only because of its values, but also because its population of clergy and nuns practicing celibacy has no need for such. On the other hand, the Philippines, marred with heaps of stories, husbands and wives alike, who are in situations warranting divorce. Given the foregoing, it is undeniable that the Church has its considerable influence in the secular and political affairs of the country.

We may find ourselves agreeing to what Atty. Clara Padilla, the executive director of EnGendeRights, a Manila-based nonprofit that advocates for women’s rights, had told npr.org, that “the Philippines should be a secular state where there should be separation of church and state, where the Catholic Church should not be able to influence their religious beliefs in the passage of laws.[2]

To reiterate, the Church’s strong opposition to divorce is probably the main reason why, along with the Vatican, the Philippines is the only country where divorce is illegal. Except for Filipinos married to foreigners who seek divorce abroad[3], and Muslim Filipinos who are subject to different marriage laws, most Filipinos must file a nullity of marriage or annulment to legally end their marriage. However, few use these remedies because the outcome is uncertain, the costs are high (usually three months or more of average earnings) and the legal procedures are lengthy and complex.[4]                 

In his sponsorship remarks on the Divorce bill, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the bill seeks to reinstate absolute divorce because it was already practiced during the pre-Spanish times, the American colonial period, and during the Japanese occupation.[5]

The Pros 

The Divorce bill will enable the countless wives (and a considerable number of husbands), who are battered and deserted, to regain their humanity, self-respect and freedom from irredeemably failed marriages and utterly dysfunctional unions.[6]

In an article published by Rappler[7] as the Philippine Senate heard the absolute divorce bills, the following sentiments are from those in favor:

  1. legalizing divorce would give someone who’s trapped in an abusive and unhealthy relationship a chance to start a new life;
  2. it is a chance to start over and turn a new leaf after enduring years trapped in a bad marriage; and
  3. it will provide closure and justice to the many women who are  suffering from trauma because of an abusive relationship, such traumatic experience eventuallly affecting the children.

For me personally, a lot of people who are physically separated and whose marriages are no longer working, try to hide their situation and they will surely benefit from this. Imagine that the cost of annulment in our country is extremely high, requiring hundreds of thousands of pesos, which the average worker cannot afford. But eventually, the peace of mind and the regained self-respect of the offended spouse is the most important, as well as the welfare of the children who will be dissociated from the abusive environment.

The Cons

The opponents of absolute divorce argue that allowing it will destroy the institution of marriage. Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila said that “according to the Philippine Constitution, we are supposed to be pro-family to protect the family, and strengthen the family, and divorce will not help our people at all.” He further insisted that we cannot make a policy for certain cases when the whole society would suffer in the long run.[8]

Religious groups and supporters see the measure as evil, “anti-family,” and detrimental to the children. Others believe that legalizing divorce is not the best solution for broken marriages. Instead, the lawmakers should amend existing laws on marriages, like raising the age requirement for someone to get married. Some reasoned that the Philippines has annulment and legal separation, and those should be enough. Senator Joel Villanueva, a vocal critic of the divorce bill said that he will “definitely oppose” it when the same reaches the plenary. He said he instead supports “equal access” to annulment, which he branded “anti-poor.”[9]

Buhay Partylist Representative Lito Atienza, on opposing the bill, contend that “the Constitution says the sanctity of marriage should be protected by the State. Passing this measure goes against the inviolability of marriage, which should never be broken, infringed or dishonored.”

Conclusion

The Constitution mandated the separation of church and state. It likewise upheld the inviolability of marriage and vows to protect and strengthen the family. It is not unknown to us that the loudest voice against the reinstitution of absolute divorce are the religious groups, with the Roman Catholic church in the lead. They anchor their arguments in both biblical and legal bases, the latter being the Constitution. 

However, it is unfortunate that they cannot see the practical reality. In explaining why, allow me to cite as an example a husband who physically abuses his wife and is a cheating womanizer. To say that we should “protect and strengthen the family” even in this case because it is provided for in the constitution is injustice for the wife and their children. For how can we call on the “strengthening of the family” when the husband himself is actively chopping the pillars from inside. The children will be the ones who suffer the most. Don’t you think the children suffer when they see their parents fighting or hitting each other every night? It is a form of emotional torture for the children. 

That being said, while it is true that the effects of the absolute divorce will affect the society, the prohibition in Constitution for the Church to meddle in the state policy making, particularly on secular affairs, should be respected and followed. The separation of the Church and State is also absolute and must be respected. The passage of the Divorce law will not encourage wholesale divorce applications. At most, it will only free the oppressed from the oppressors in dysfunctional marriages, but the majority of filipino families are not going to be affected. Afterall, the Church actively preached those values. Isn’t it ironic that it (Church) wants to meddle in State affairs over its unfounded fears of collapse in filipino values because of a particular law, when since the Spanish times, it has been preaching those values. Does it mean that the Church views the foundation of those values as weak, to be susceptible to influences?

Moreover, it is hard to believe that all the other countries collectively erred in instituting absolute divorce in varying degrees of liberality and limitations. An en masse blunder is beyond comprehension. An erroneous unanimity on such a crucial familial institution defies reason and experience. Obviously, the rest of the world cannot be mistaken on the universality of absolute divorce.[10]

For those against who cited customs and tradition to be affected and argued that the institution of marriage will be destroyed, Rep. Lagmay answered that in his sponsorship speech that the proposed Divorce law “cannot undo centuries of dearly held Filipino customs and traditions honoring and celebrating marriage and the family[, m]arriage and the family are and will still be at the heart of the Filipino way of life.”

Finally, insisting in staying together despite the dysfunction and unworkable marriage, for the sake of the children is ill-thought of. In reality, children are suffering more, most in silence, especially in abusive cases. Divorce of their parents will legally remove them from such scenario. Thus, the pros certainly outweigh the cons.

— End —


[1] (2020) Philippines: House Bill on Divorce Approved in Committee. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2020-03-04/philippines-house-bill-on-divorce-approved-in-committee/.

[2] Sullivan, M. (2018, May 23). Divorce Is Prohibited In The Philippines, But Moves Are Underway To Legalize It : Parallels : NPR. NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/05/23/613335232/divorce-is-prohibited-in-the-philippines-but-moves-are-underway-to-legalize-it.

[3] Family Code of the Philippines and Supreme Court Decision in Republic of the Philippines v. Marilyn Tanedo Manalo, April 24, 2018

[4] Abalos, J. B. (2017, July 10). Philippines: the Rise Of Divorce, Separation, And Cohabitation. N-IUSSP. https://www.niussp.org/family-and-households/the-rise-of-divorce-separation-and-cohabitation-in-the-philippines/.

[5] House Panel Approves Absolute Divorce Bill | Philippine News Agency. (2021, August 17). House panel approves absolute divorce bill. https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1150751.

[6] Ibid.

[7] ‘People Fall In Love, People Fall Out Of Love:’ Netizens Debate Divorce. (n.d.). Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/nation/netizens-debate-divorce-philippines.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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