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The accusation of Deputy Speaker Jose Atienza, Jr. that the House committee on population and family relations railroaded on August 17, 2021 the unanimous approval of the substitute bill reinstituting absolute divorce in the Philippines is both belated and baseless.

Atienza was present and recognized during the virtual Zoom meeting of the committee, but unlike the other members, he did not make any manifestation as he was unusually silent, neither did he vote against the measure. 

The committee did not commit any railroading, which is the approval with deplorable alacrity of a measure against the rules and/or without any thorough deliberation.

Principal author Rep. Edcel C. Lagman and committee chair Rep. Ma. Lucille L. Nava underscored that there was no railroading because:

  1. It took the Committee more than two (2) years before approving the substitute bill.

  2. House Bill No. 100, which is the first bill on absolute divorce in the 18th Congress, was filed on July 1, 2019, the first day of the current Congress. 

  3. By July 29, 2019, all of the three (3) divorce bills (HB Nos. 100, 838 and 2263) had been referred to the committee.

  4. On February 5, 2020, the committee conducted an exhaustive committee hearing where all of those who were invited and attended expressed and ventilated their views, either for or against the measure. 

  5. Among others, the following presented their respective positions against absolute divorce: 

    1. Re. Father Jerome Secillano, chair of the permanent committee on public affairs of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP);

    2. Atty. Lyndon P. CaƱa, chairman/convenor of the Coalition of Concerned Families in the Philippines; 

    3. Atty. Ronald Reyes, convenor of the Advocates for Family and Life; and

    4. Jesus Joel Mari Arzaga, vice president of the Alliance for the Family Foundation of the Philippines, Inc. (ALFI). 

  6. The committee created a technical working group (TWG) to harmonize and consolidate the pending bills. The TWG conducted two (2) separate meetings on Feb. 12, 2020 and March 4, 2020 wherein the advocates and adversaries of the measure were again invited to present their views.

  7. The TWG submitted the substitute bill in March 2020, or one year and five months ago. 

  8. In May 2021, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco submitted perfecting amendments which were included in the substitute bill. 

  9. All regular and ex officio members of the Committee were notified in advance of the meeting on Aug. 17, 2021 for the consideration and approval of the substitute bill together with the corresponding committee report. 

  10. Since a similar bill (HB No. 7303) was approved on third and final reading by the House in the 17thCongress, the present bills are entitled to a fast lane for approval in the committee level pursuant to Sec. 48 of Rule X of the Rules of the House. However, the committee did not apply this rule and proceeded to meticulously hear anew all interested parties. 

Aside from Atienza, the following Deputy Speakers representing the leadership of the House attended the meeting: Deputy Speakers Bienvenido Abante. Jr., Rose Marie Arenas, Pablo John Garcia, and Rufus Rodriguez.

                                           EDCEL C. LAGMAN