By Herman M. Lagon
(First of two parts)
IN A WORLD where change is the only constant, the Philippines remains steadfastly one of the two nations without a divorce law, the other being the Vatican City. The question that naturally arises is: Why does our nation, with its rich tapestry of culture and diversity, insist on clinging to an archaic stance that refuses to acknowledge the inevitability of change and the dire need for reform in our family laws?
House Bill 78 of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman et al. and Senate Bill No. 2443 of Sen. Risa Hotiveros et al., known as the Dissolution of Marriage Act, have been crafted meticulously to reflect Philippine values and traditions while addressing the undeniable realities of modern life. Critics decry these bills as a reckless plunge into moral decay. However, in reality, they offer a well-thought-out remedy for couples trapped in marriages that have deteriorated beyond repair. It is not about permitting whirlwind marriages and equally swift divorces, Las Vegas-style; instead, it is about offering hope to those ensnared in abusive, hypocritical, and ultimately soul-crushing unions.
To pursue an absolute divorce, spouses have the option to file either separate or joint petitions. In cases where spouses have children, joint petitions must encompass a comprehensive parenthood plan, addressing vital aspects like child support, custody arrangements, and living conditions, ensuring the well-being of the children involved.
The proposed bills delineate several grounds for divorce, encompassing various circumstances. These include a five-year separation period, whether continuous or intermittent; the commission of rape by one spouse against the other regardless of when it occurred in the marriage timeline; adherence to the legal separation grounds outlined in the Family Code; the involvement of relevant domestic crimes; recognition of a foreign divorce decree secured by a Filipino citizen; situations marked by irreconcilable marital differences or an irrevocable breakdown of the marriage despite sincere reconciliation attempts; and lastly, the authorization of marriage annulment, dissolution by a religious institution, or termination of marriage by the customs and practices traditionally acknowledged, embraced, and observed within Indigenous Cultural Communities (ICCs) or Indigenous Peoples (IPs) to which the spouses belong.
These conditions, far from being hasty, ensure that divorce remains a thoughtful, measured process that respects the institution of marriage while recognizing the dignity and rights of individuals. Once divorce is granted, each party’s status will become single for all legal intents and purposes, including the right to contract a subsequent marriage.
The opposition often turns to religious doctrine, particularly The Bible, as the ultimate defense against divorce. But in the realm of rational discourse, biblical interpretations should be carefully contextualized and not taken literally. After all, the Old Testament itself acknowledges divorce, and even the Catholic Church offers a form of marriage annulment or dissolution. God never mandated that one should endure abuse and suffering in the name of ‘honor’ or ‘shame.’
It is worth noting that divorce was not always an alien concept in our land. Before Spanish colonial rule, various indigenous tribes practiced divorce. Moreover, we had a divorce law in the Philippines before 1950, and even today, this remedy is available under Muslim law. Non-Muslim Filipinos are the only ones denied access to it, even when their lives hang in the balance, figuratively or literally.
Some argue that annulment and legal separation suffice, but this is far from true. In the Philippines, the psychological grounds for annulment are narrower and more costly than divorce. It is easier to obtain a divorce in other countries with more relaxed rules. In essence, we have a form of “semi-divorce” accessible mainly to the affluent under the guise of annulment. Poor couples, on the other hand, resort to adultery, bigamy, or simply live in legal limbo, unable to conform to socially accepted marital norms.
Divorce is not about promoting instability in families but offering a rational, compassionate solution when there is no other recourse. Why prolong the agony of couples trapped in nightmarish marriages? Why expose children to a toxic, hostile environment when the love between their parents has withered away? Divorce is never a threat to the sanctity of marriage; it is an acknowledgment of the limits of human endurance and the need for a fresh start.
In the next part of this column, we will delve deeper into the benefits and practicability of legalizing divorce in the Philippines, focusing on its positive impact on society and the well-being of individuals.
Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.