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Malacañang: No stand yet on divorce bill

MANILA, Philippines—It’s not that Malacañang doesn’t want to ruffle Church feathers again, but it just doesn’t have a position yet on a controversial divorce bill being revived in Congress.

And so President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, on Tuesday steered clear on talk about legalizing divorce in the country, which, like the reproductive health bill, is expected to be a touchy issue for the Catholic Church.

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Just three months after he took office, the President thumbed down proposals to revive a divorce law.

“Divorce is a no-no,” Mr. Aquino then said, but the 51-year-old bachelor added that he favored legal separation that would allow couples to remarry.

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At Tuesday’s press briefing, Valte was asked whether Mr. Aquino had changed his position.

She said the Palace had no stand on the divorce bill “as of the moment” because the question had not been put to the President.

“It’s not that we’re being cautious because we don’t want to collide with the Church, but because it’s really a matter, a rule of thumb for us and even in past briefings, that if someone asks us something that has not yet been discussed with the President, we tell you outright that we have not yet discussed it with him,” Valte said.

The House committee on revision of laws has scheduled a hearing today (Wednesday) on a bill seeking to legalize divorce. The move followed a vote in a referendum in Roman Catholic Malta approving divorce in the tiny Mediterranean archipelago. The Philippines is the only other country where divorce is banned.

Not Vegas-style

Gabriela Representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus, authors of the bill, told reporters on Tuesday that their proposal did not seek to institutionalize divorce “Las Vegas-style.”

Under their bill, couples would undergo a process and the court would decide on the merits of each case, custody of children and division of properties.

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“If it’s already life-threatening, like if the wife is battered, or there is sexual infidelity, then divorce will give both a chance to live their lives separately and get married again,” Ilagan said.

Current laws allow the annulment of marriage, an expensive process only the wealthy can afford and is granted on grounds of psychological incapacity. Legal separation also is allowed, but only from bed and board and partners are banned from remarrying.

And not like rats

Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani on Tuesday said the Philippines must not follow the global trend, citing lemmings, rodents whose migratory behavior lead them to follow each other until they fall off cliffs to drown in the ocean.

“If the world is like that, let’s not follow because we might be put in danger,” Bacani said in a forum hosted by the Catholic Media Network.

He noted that in the United States, which had the highest rate of divorce, one in two married couples preferred to separate.

“If there’s a divorce law, couples facing some minor problems may choose not to work on their marriage anymore,” Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto told the forum.

Sotto said those pushing for the legalization of divorce were the same supporters of the reproductive health bill. He said the strategy was to weaken the Church.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said the Philippines was not ready for divorce.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Joker Arroyo said it was not a good idea to discuss divorce while legislators remained divided on the reproductive health bill.

Same-sex marriage?

Lacson noted concerns that a divorce law might lead to even more explosive proposals. “This is the apprehension of many people, that the issue might evolve into same-sex marriage and, later, legalizing abortion.”

Estrada has a pending bill, which, he said, could serve as a “compromise” for people pushing for a divorce law. Senate Bill No. 781 specifies cases of “psychological incapacity,” which is a ground for the nullification of marriage.

Conditions in the Estrada bill include violent behavior or grossly abusive conduct against the spouse or their common child or children; abandonment, protracted and constant refusal to cohabit or have sexual intercourse; constitutional laziness or indolence or willful deprivation of financial, spiritual, moral and emotional support to the spouse and children without justifiable cause.

Also covered are drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, compulsive gambling and criminality; inveterate sexual infidelity and homosexuality; and extremely low intelligence or maturity. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana, Jocelyn R. Uy and Christian V. Esguerra

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TAGS: annulment, Benigno Aquino III, controversies, divorce, Divorce bill, indecision, legal separation, Malta, psychological incapacity, Roman Catholic Church, sexual infidelity
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