While Roman Catholic bishops and prolife groups were still recovering from their crushing defeat on the reproductive health (RH) bill, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte dropped yet another bombshell—he wants a divorce law in predominantly Catholic Philippines.
“Me, I’m in favor of the divorce bill,” Belmonte said Tuesday when asked during a pre-Christmas lunch with reporters.
But he admitted that passing a divorce bill would have to wait because congressmen would be busy campaigning for next year’s midterm elections.
Asked if a divorce law would be passed in the next Congress, Belmonte—who described himself as a Christian—said he didn’t know what the composition of the House of Representatives would be then, “but I think so.”
After Malta legalized divorced last year, the Philippines has become the only country in the world—apart from the Vatican—without a divorce law.
Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus of the militant group Gabriela have a pending bill seeking to amend the Family Code to include a divorce provision.
Belmonte said the measure remained at the committee level and was unlikely to be passed soon.
“Not this time, but it’s there at the back of our minds,” he said. “I just want the idea to be there … I want that to remain in the consciousness of congressmen so at some point, we can take it up again.”
Failed, unhappy marriages
In their explanatory note to House Bill No. 1799, Ilagan and De Jesus said their divorce proposal was in line with “the policy of the State to protect and strengthen marriage and the family as basic social institutions.”
“Reality tells us that there are many failed, unhappy marriages across all Filipino classes,” they said. “Many couples, especially from the marginalized sectors who have no access to the courts, simply end up separating without the benefit of legal processes.”
The two lawmakers said “cultural prescriptions and religious norms keep many couples together despite the breakdown of their marriages.”
“While absolute fidelity is demanded of wives, men are granted sexual license to have affairs outside marriage. Yet when the marriage fails, the woman is blamed for its failure,” they added.
But Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez—an opponent of the RH bill—rejected the divorce proposal, warning it would further erode family values.
“If we opposed the RH bill, the more that we will oppose a divorce bill,” Rodriguez told the Inquirer. “This will definitely destroy families and the future of their children.”
Rodriguez did not appear surprised that discussions on a divorce law were now happening, especially after Congress passed the RH bill despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church.
He earlier warned that an RH law would open a “pandora’s box” of related demands, such as legislation on abortion, divorce and same-sex marriage.
“That’s the progression,” he said. “All they need is a crack to open and change our values system.”
A covenant, a ‘mystery’
The Church considers marriage a “covenant” and has long opposed divorce, allowing annulment but under strict conditions.
“Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes,” according to the Catechism of the Church.
“The Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its ‘mystery,’ its institution and the meaning God has given it, its origin and its end, its various realizations throughout the history of salvation, the difficulties arising from sin and its renewal ‘in the Lord’ in the New Covenant of Christ and the Church.”
Belmonte justified his preference for a divorce law, saying: “If your lives are no longer tolerable, why (not divorce)?”
Now that Congress has passed the RH bill, he said he would reach out to Catholic bishops.
“I would, definitely I would,” he said. “I don’t see any lasting acrimony between us.”
Grounds for divorce
HB 1799 cites five grounds for divorce, among them “irreconcilable differences that have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.”
Divorce can also be sought if the “petitioner has been separated de facto from his or her spouse for at least five years at the time of the filing of the petition and reconciliation is highly improbable.” Legal separation from a spouse “for at least two years” is also a ground, according to the bill.
“When one or both spouses are psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations,” he or she could also file for divorce. Any of the existing grounds for legal separation that has caused “irreparable breakdown of marriage” could also be a ground.