Lagman to divorce naysayers: Will we wait for abused wives to die?

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman has disputed fears that legalizing divorce in the country would destroy families and marriages, asking critics of the proposal if they are willing to wait for abused or threatened spouses to die.

Rep. Edcel Lagman —INQUIRER PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman has disputed fears that legalizing divorce in the country would destroy families and marriages, asking critics of the proposal if they are willing to wait for abused or threatened spouses to die.

At the plenary session on Wednesday, Lagman defended House Bill (HB) No. 9349 or the proposed Absolute Divorce Act from Baguio City Rep. Mark Go, who cited studies like one in Burkina Faso which showed that remarriages a few years after divorce have been a common occurrence.

Go feared that this would also happen to the Philippines once HB No. 9349 is passed and enacted into law.

“The worry that I have here Mr. Speaker, our Honorable sponsor, is that this might open the Pandora’s box and that worry can have a negative impact in the families that we have in this country,” Go said.

But Lagman said that even the Philippines’ Supreme Court has noted that dissolving marriages is a welcome respite for dead marriages — indicating that marriages are already dead before divorce would come into play.

“The Supreme Court in the case of Te versus Te ruled that the dissolution of a marriage is a welcome interment of a long dead marriage.  In other words, we did not destroy in a divorce — the marriage has long been shuttered and has perished for a long time and it would not be possible anymore to reconcile the spouses,” he said.

“For example, if a wife is being threatened almost daily with abuse and cruelty and could lead to her death, why wait until the wife is dead before she could secure freedom from a toxic and dangerous relation?” he asked.

Lagman also assured Go and other critics that legalizing divorce does not means destroying marriage as a social institution which is often considered as the basis of a family.  However, the Albay lawmaker also noted that there is no reason for the State to deprive couples in a broken marriage from ultimately ending their ties.

“Mr. Speaker, the bill itself provides in its declaration of principles that the State will continue to respect that marriage is a social institution and it is the basis of the family, and that the State will conduct pre-nuptial and post-nuptial seminars and other programs in order to preserve the marriage,” Lagman noted.

“In other words, these studies would only confirm the prevalence of crucial causes for absolute divorce because the marriage has broken down irremediably.  And there is no reason for the State to cause the spouses to live together when they are in fact in constant conflict,” he added.

When Go said that abused parties can invoke Article 55 of the Family Code which discusses “abusive conduct directed against the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner” as a ground for legal separation, Lagman noted that this method does not dissolve marriages — which means couples do not get a second chance in love.

“I would like to reiterate my previous answer, that this ground for legal separation is not sufficient, because they are not entitled to remarry and have a second chance at marital bliss.  The legal separation only separates the husband and the wife from bed and board, but the legal tie of marriage is not dissolved,” Lagman said.

“So if we are giving them separation from bed and board, why don’t we give them the ultimate freedom of remarrying?  Because if you are not allowed to remarry, they would cohabit with other partners and spawn adultery and concubinage which is penalized under our Code,” he added.

Opposition to the divorce bill came immediately when proponents were sponsoring HB No. 9349 on Tuesday, as Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez asked that he be allowed to interpellate sponsors.  However, the Majority noted that the parliamentary status of the bill is that it is in the period of sponsorship.

READ: Bill reinstating divorce now brought to House plenary 

Nevertheless, Rodriguez manifested that he be included in the list of interpellators, expressing concerns that divorce would open the floodgates of broken families.

Proponents like Cebu 3rd District Rep. Pablo John Garcia have highlighted that the Philippines remains the only country in the world which does not have divorce as a way for dissolving failed marriages — save for the Vatican, a small city-state which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church that advocates against divorce, and is home to many unmarried priests and nuns.

Lagman meanwhile assured people who are against divorce that this method is a mere option — meaning it will not be the only way to dissolve marriages because of the presence of annulment.

Several groups advocating rights of Filipino women have called for the legalization of divorce, so that they can escape violent spouses.  As of now, in the Senate, a similar measure has been approved by the committee on women, children, family relation and gender equality.