Divorce: Half Battle Won

The Philippines is the only country in the world, aside from Vatican City, that does not allow divorce.

In this Women’s Month, the House of Representatives found the formula of vital support, legislative push and warm bodies in voting for one of the most controversial legislative bills passed on third and final reading. Divorce bills have been filed as early as 1998 under the 11th Congress but no version was able to get out of committee. It should be noted that in a country where 97% are Catholic, the issue of divorce is a hotly contested matter. The Philippines is the only country in the world, aside from Vatican City, that does not allow divorce.

Philippine laws do not provide for absolute divorce save for Presidential Decree No 1083 or the “Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines” where divorce is allowed in certain instances. The law applies only when both parties are Muslims, or wherein only the male party is a Muslim and the marriage is solemnized in accordance with Muslim law in any part of the Philippines. Divorce was available in certain periods in Philippine history, such as under the Divorce Law of 1917 (Act No. 2710) and during the Japanese occupation, pursuant to Executive Order No. 141 (1943). As the law stands today, however, a marriage between two Filipinos cannot be dissolved even by a divorce obtained abroad. In mixed marriages involving a Filipino and a foreigner (or former Filipinos), Article 26 of the Family Code allows the former to contract a subsequent marriage in case the divorce is validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry.

Today, in lieu of divorce, married persons resort to annulment. Per the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), there is an alarming increase in the number of annulment cases in the Philippines. The number of annulment cases filed in courts, which never breached the 7,000-mark prior to 2006, rose to 7,138 (2006) and 7,753 (2007), further increasing to 11,135 in 2014.

19 years after the first divorce bill was filed, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 134 in favor, 57 against and 2 abstention, passed House Bill No. 7303 or the Absolute Divorce Act of 2018 last 20 March 2018. Principal author Rep. Edcel Lagman (1st Dist, Albay) and the chairperson of the Committee on Population and Family Relations, Rep. Sol Aragones (3rd Dist, Laguna) played important roles in securing its passage together with Majority Floor Leader Rudy Farinas and Speaker Bebot Alvarez, said to be an interested party to its passage.

The Committee on Population and Family Relations, to which the bill was referred to, approved the measure in substitution of four measures (HN 116, 1062, 2380 and 6027) under Committee Report No. 6440 dated 28 February 2018. On the same date, the Committee on Rules calendared the measure in the Order of Business. It was sponsored on 12-13 March, passing on second reading by 14 March.

Echoing the oft-repeated line, "we are living in the same house but both decided to live our own life", the bill provides three key points: the opportunity for spouses in irremediably failed marriages to secure an absolute divorce decree under limited grounds and well-defined procedures; protect the children from the pain and stress resulting from their parent’s marital problems; and grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again.

Guiding principles (Section 3 of engrossed copy) of the bill revolve around making divorce inexpensive and affordable; apart from the grounds for legal separation and annulment of marriage under the Family Code of the Philippines, it provides separation in fact for at least five (5) years, legal separation by judicial decree for at least two years, psychological incapacity, gender reassignment surgery, irreconcilable differences and joint petition of spouses; provides priority for OFWs with respect to court hearings; mandates summary judicial proceedings for certain grounds of absolute divorce to facilitate the eliminate costly and cumbersome court process; provides for a mandatory six-month cooling-off period for petitioner spouses; establishes the impact of divorce on the right of the spouses to remarry, the conjugal partnership of gains, the children and their legitime, donation and alimony; recognizes reconciliation of the spouses through a joint manifestation under oath submitted to the court; provides for options for a one-time grant of alimony and option for delivering the presumptive legitime if the spouses are still living.

There is no counterpart measure in the Senate. The likelihood of it being considered by the chamber is low. It has been said that predominantly, Senators are more open to an amendment to the grounds of annulment (of an existing marriage), probably a more affordable one than an absolute divorce. Technically, the Senate can either react to the House version by agreeing to the provisions so there is no bicameral or propose amendments to it, necessitating a reconciliation of measures.

President Duterte has also voiced his opposition to the measure because of the impact on kids of separating spouses as well as grant of support to them.

The battle is half won. Will the Senate find its voice and articulate the sentiments of their national constituency or give more emphasis to the religious overtones? Will President Duterte see the light of day using his personal experience thereby making divorce available to Filipino families? Congress resumes its session in 14 May and will only have 9 session days before it adjourns its second regular session.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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