THE Philippines is the only country in the world today which outlaws absolute divorce, aside from the almost celibate Vatican city state. It is hard to believe that all the other countries collectively erred in instituting absolute divorce in varying degrees of liberality and limitations. An en masse blunder is beyond comprehension. An erroneous unanimity on such a crucial familial institution defies reason and experience. Obviously, the rest of the world cannot be mistaken on the universality of absolute divorce.
The Vatican should not count as an exception together with the Philippines because it has a sparse annual population averaging 799 residents, many of whom are prelates and nuns. Moreover, single women who live in the Vatican lose their right to reside there once married. No one is born in the Papal State which has no maternity clinic.
Clearly, the Philippines is vastly different from the Vatican.
Except for the Philippines, all Catholic secular countries have absolute divorce, including Spain which propagated Catholicism in the Philippines; Italy where the Holy See is located; Portugal, which allows summary electronic divorce; and Latin American countries, which legitimize divorce before a notary public.
Short of reversing the canon against divorce in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis has mitigated the dogma of denying the Holy Eucharist to divorced and remarried couples. Relevantly, the Catholic Church has its own canonical divorce euphemistically called “declaration of nullity of marriage” based on “psychological incapacity” of a spouse which vitiates marriage ab initio.
Those opposed to absolute divorce invariably invoke the biblical injunction that “what God has joined together let no man put asunder.” Admittedly, what should not be severed or put asunder is a happy and holy marriage. However, a union which has become unholy, horrific, and dysfunctional is an irretrievably dead marriage. There is nothing left to put asunder. Thus, paraphrasing the Supreme Court in Te v. Te, the dissolution of an ill-fated marriage is a merciful burial of a long dead union.
Marriage and divorce are believed to be contemporaneous human developments. Divorce offers relief to couples whose marriages can succumb to the ravages of human discord, crumble to the vagaries of human frailty, and wither under fickle emotions. The innocent spouse, the wife in most cases, must be liberated from the agony of a cruel and oppressive marriage, and the children rescued from the trauma of a discordant home, from the quagmire of parental acrimony.
Divorce is not for all married couples. It is never an option for couples in harmonious, happy, and vibrant marriages which account for the overwhelming majority of marriages. It is for the exceptional cases of irredeemably lost marriages where reconciliation is nil. The availability of divorce does not open the floodgates to separation and divorce. The average rate of divorce worldwide is only 4.08 divorces for every 1,000 married couples with a low of 0.45 in Sri Lanka and a high of 19.01 in Kazakhstan. The United States was not included in the study for being “an extreme outlier”.
Absolute divorce in not new in the Philippines. Our ancestors liberally granted divorce for infertility, infidelity, and failure to fulfill familial obligations, among others. The Spanish colonizers adopted the siete partidas which only allowed legal separation based on adultery by either spouse.
Act No. 2710 of the Philippine Legislature during the American period legalized absolute divorce on the sole ground of adultery or concubinage upon proof of prior conviction. This limited grant, despite the varied causes in the United States, was an accommodation to the Catholic hierarchy which resisted absolute divorce. The Japanese administration expanded the grounds to include attempt of one spouse against the life of the other; contagious diseases contracted by either spouse; incurable insanity; repeated bodily violence; and abandonment for three consecutive years.
The Philippine Civil Code of 1950 allows only relative divorce or legal separation where re-marriage is proscribed. However, Muslim Filipinos are entitled to secure absolute divorce. The Philippine Family Code of 1987 disallows absolute divorce, except to Muslims.
Many bills have been filed proposing the recognition of absolute divorce. But it was only during the 17th Congress when House Bill No. 7303, entitled “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines”, was overwhelmingly approved on third and final reading by the House of Representatives on March 19, 2018. The Senate was unable to act on the bill. Three House bills on absolute divorce have been refiled in the 18th Congress. A technical working group approved a consolidated version on March 10, 2020, more than a year ago. The House committee on population and family relations has yet to report out the substitute bill.
Absolute divorce is correctly being reinstituted because we had it before. Thus, the substitute House bill is entitled “An Act Reinstituting Absolute Divorce as an Alternative Mode for the Dissolution of Marriage”. This reinstitution is long overdue.
This column’s second installment will deal with the salient features of the absolute divorce bill; the grounds for absolute divorce; its difference from declaration of nullity of marriage, legal separation, and annulment of marriage; and the constitutionality of absolute divorce.
It is said that marriages are solemnized in heaven. But some marriages plummet into hell due to spousal abuse, marital infidelity, and insuperable causes. Absolute divorce becomes a veritable option because once love and respect are hopelessly lost in marriage, their restoration cannot be compelled by mores, customs, and even statute. Verily, abandoned, brutalized, and distressed spouses deserve a second chance at marital bliss, although many wives seeking divorce have no intention to remarry. These aggrieved women just want out of a hellish union.