By Herbert Vego
THIS time, will it ripen into law?
As widely covered by the media, the Senate committee on women, children, family relation, and gender equality has approved a consolidated measure (Senate Bill No. 2443) on absolute divorce which would provide “protections to the parties to the marriage and its common children, amending for this purpose executive order no 209, or the family code of the Philippines.”
Sen. Risa Hontiveros authored the bill, with Senators Raffy Tulfo, Robin Padilla, Pia Cayetano, and Imee Marcos listed as co-authors.
The bill defines absolute divorce as “the legal termination of a marriage by a court in a legal proceeding, requiring a petition or complaint for divorce by one or both party/ies, which will have the effect of returning both parties to the status of single for all legal intents and purposes, including the right to contract a subsequent marriage.”
Two of the grounds include five years of separation, whether continuous or broken, and commission of the crime of rape before or after marriage.
It would revert the status of both parties to single for all legal intents and purposes, including the right to contract a subsequent marriage.
Much earlier in March this year, the House of Representatives’ House Committee on Population and Family Relations approved its own version that is now open for eventual plenary debates.
Similar bills in the past have failed to pass because of steadfast objection by the Catholic Church. The Philippines is the only state outside the Vatican that outlaws divorce.
One recalls that in 2018 or one year before the end of the 17th Congress, a similar bill had breezed through the House of Representatives but got stranded when the Senate failed to pass its own.
Ironically then President Rodrigo Duterte — despite his annulled marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman – stood against allowing divorce in the Philippines because, as reported by the March 19, 2018 of the Philippine Star, “it would be disadvantageous to children and to abandoned spouses.”
My view is that, divorced or not, any citizen could “happily separate” from a spouse on mere incompatibility. But how about those who want to remarry?
There is one Biblical ground for divorce – unfaithfulness. According to Matthew 5:32, “A man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”
Why, then, continue to sleep with an unfaithful wife?
It would be presumptuous for a hopeless union to continue because of a seemingly contradictory Bible verse: “What God has joined, man must not separate” (Matthew 19:6).
Why hold God responsible for joining mismatches?
The first Philippine divorce bill I read about was authored by the late Assemblyman Arturo Pacificador in the early 1980s. It proposed three grounds for divorce: adultery on the part of the wife and concubinage on the husband’s (yes, the aforesaid Biblical ground); an attempt by the respondent against the life of the petitioner; and abandonment of the petitioner by the respondent without just cause for at least five consecutive years.
“Times have so changed,” said Pacificador in his explanatory note to the bill, “that even the predominantly Catholic Italy and Brazil have passed their own divorce laws.”
Pacificador’s first two aforesaid grounds are in fact among the existing grounds for legal separation which entitles spouses to live separately without dissolving matrimony.
Surprisingly, Pacificador missed citing one of the Catholic Church’s grounds for annulment – the inability of the respondent to perform the sexual act.
There were Catholic priests who agreed with the Antique solon. One of them, Cebu-based Fr. Antonio Maria Rosales, was vocal against preserving an unhappy marriage: “Is such a marriage not a ‘death sentence’ to the couple and their children?”
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) – an organization of 10 non-Roman Catholic Christian sects — favors divorce, but only “as last resort if everything else fails and the dissolution of the marriage ties appears to the couple as the only possible way of redeeming themselves and their children.”
Pacificador’s bill might have passed had then First Lady Imelda Marcos not intervened. As a result, the subservient Batasang Pambansa echoed her opinion that “it could weaken the family and demoralize the children.”
From whatever angle we look, the absence of a divorce law drives the problem of broken homes from bad to worse. Without legal remedy, estranged couples are forced to either live with a new partner or indulge in short-time affairs. On the other hand, the couples who choose to remain under one roof due to religious bigotry are already condemned to hell on earth.
Blessed are those who would rather live outside, than inside, a broken home.