Divorce could be one of the major battles in the 16th Congress, with the early refiling of a bill that opposes it and the declaration by its advocates that they will press its adoption in the Philippines.
Marikina Rep. Marcelino Teodoro has refiled his “antidivorce and unlawful dissolution of marriage” bill, which he says is intended to protect marriage as an inviolable social institution and of the family as the foundation of the nation.
In the 15th Congress, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. made a pitch for the divorce bill, and said he wanted it taken up in the succeeding Congress.
But Belmonte also said the proposal would not be a priority of the House of Representatives.
Gabriela, a women’s party-list group, is intent on pursuing the passage of the bill in the 16th Congress and is planning to file a new version of the measure.
The Philippines and the Vatican are the last two states that prohibit divorce.
In his explanatory note to his bill, Teodoro says there have been efforts to introduce divorce in the Philippines so that couples in failed marriages can have another chance to remarry, in addition to getting an annulment of marriage or a declaration of nullity.
Teodoro says he believes the proposal poses a danger to the institution of marriage.
“Despite its apparent worthy objective, it still undermines the value of marriage by encouraging couples to put an end to their [union] instead of allowing them to reconcile immediately or fix the [problems] over time,” he says.
Teodoro’s bill seeks to make divorce “unacceptable” in the Philippine legal system, and only legal separation, which allows spouses to live independently of each other but not remarry, would be allowed.
It states that divorce obtained by a Filipino citizen abroad is not valid in the Philippines.
The bill also proposes to prohibit knowingly committing acts at the time of marriage or prior to it that would give grounds for legal separation or the annulment or declaration of nullity of marriage. These would include the failure to get a marriage license, or using an officer who has no marriage authority.
The bill seeks to penalize connivance to obtain an annulment or a legal separation, as well as the issuance of a decree of legal separation without the court taking steps to get the couple to reconcile, and without determining beforehand that reconciliation would be highly improbable.
Access to remedies
In an earlier push for divorce, Gabriela noted that for some women, the inequalities and violence in their marriage negate the ideal that it is the embodiment of love, care and safety, and erode the values on which marriage is founded.
Given those realities, Gabriela said couples must have the option of having access to remedies that would allow them to attain their full human development and self-fulfillment as well as protect their human rights.
Divorce could protect battered women and their children from further violence and abuse, Gabriela said.
The group added that with the predominance of the Catholic faith in the country, the fear that divorce would erode personal values pertaining to marriage appeared to be unfounded.
The divorce bill could prove to be another contentious issue between Congress and the Catholic Church.
Earlier, Church officials railed against the enactment of the reproductive health bill, which mandates the government to, among other things, provide public access to contraceptives and family planning programs.
Equality in family
Another newly filed bill in the House seeks to ensure that women and men are treated equally in the family, by amending the Family Code’s provisions that support the “outmoded presumption” that men’s decisions are superior to those of women.
The bill, filed by Bukidnon Rep. Lourdes Acosta Alba, wants to amend the Family Code provision that gives primacy to the consent of the father when it comes to allowing children between the ages of 18 and 21 to get married. The bill would give the mother’s consent equal weight as the father’s.
Alba’s bill also proposes to change the provision on the spouses’ joint administration and enjoyment of community property by removing the part that states that in case there is a disagreement, the husband’s decision will prevail.
The bill also seeks to remove a similar provision concerning conjugal partnership property.
Alba’s bill also seeks to amend the Family Code’s provisions on the parents’ joint exercise of parental authority over their children, and on the joint exercise of legal guardianship over the property of unemancipated common children.
It proposes to remove the phrase contained in both provisions stating that the father’s decision will prevail in case of a disagreement between the spouses.
In pushing for the measure, Alba pointed out that the Constitution guaranteed the principle of equality between women and men.
“But ironically, some of our current laws continue operating under the outmoded presumption of the superiority of men’s decisions over those of women’s,” Alba said in her explanatory note.