(Delivered on 12 March 2018 by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN, one of the principal authors of House Bill No. 7303)
Despite the eventual institution, hopefully, of a law on absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage, the State shall be steadfast in protecting marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family.
Towards this end, House Bill No. 7303 unequivocally provides for the following:
One of the guiding principles is that “Absolute divorce shall be judicially decreed after the fact of an irremediably broken marital union or a marriage vitiated from the start.”
Another guiding principle is that “the State has the role of strengthening marriage and family life by undertaking relevant pre-nuptial and post-matrimonial programs and activities.”
“Except for grounds under summary judicial proceedings, the proper court shall not start the trial of a petition for absolute divorce before the expiration of a mandatory six-month cooling-off period after the filing of the petition during which the court shall exercise all effects to reunite and reconcile the parties.”
Despite the pendency of a petition for absolute divorce or the issuance of a decree of absolute divorce, reconciliation of the spouses shall be effectuated by either terminating the divorce proceedings or recalling the decree of divorce.
Drive-thru or quickie divorces are prohibited because “No decree of absolute divorce shall be based upon a stipulation of facts or a confession of judgment.”
The Office of the Public Prosecutor is authorized and obliged to conduct investigations to find out whether or not there is collusion between the spouses in a petition for absolute divorce and shall report its findings to the proper court within six (6) months from the filing of the petition.
Stiff penalties are imposable on colluding spouses and on a spouse who coerces or compels the other to file a petition for absolute divorce. The penalties are an indivisible imprisonment of five (5) years and a fine of P200,000.00
Absolute divorce is the exception. The great majority of married Filipino couples have happy, harmonious and vibrant relationships where absolute divorce is remotest from their minds and not needed.
A divorce law cannot undo centuries of dearly held Filipino customs and traditions honoring and celebrating marriage and the family. Marriage and the family are and will still be at the heart of the Filipino way of life.
However, marriage, even as it is proclaimed an inviolable institution, is not impervious to demise, predeceasing the spouses. It is still basically a human institution, which in some instances, may collapse and wither because of human frailties and mortal limitations.
Verily, some marriages are shattered beyond repair even as the State endeavors to protect and preserve marriage.
In proceedings for absolute divorce, there is no more marriage to protect or destroy because the union has long perished.
In these exceptional circumstances, the State is also duty-bound to help couples in dysfunctional marriages where reconciliation is virtually nil. The State cannot abandon distressed spouses and their children in a house aflame.
Verily, absolute divorce is a merciful liberation of a hapless wife from an abusive marital relationship, which makes this bill a pro-woman legislation; absolute divorce is a decent interment of a long-dead marriage; it is a grant of full relief to couples in irremediably broken marriages; it gives spouses in utter torment a second chance in achieving marital bliss; it bails out children from the agony and stress of being exposed to interminable parental strife, and this is the reason why this bill is also pro-children.
Despite the adoption in the 1987 Constitution of the tenets on marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family, the Commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission which drafted the present Constitution, where unanimous in asserting that the foregoing principles do not prevent or foreclose the Congress from enacting a divorce law.
Among the advocates of this position was Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a very active, articulate and authoritative Catholic prelate.
After Commissioner Chito Gascon introduced the aforesaid concepts of marriage and family, Fr. Bernas rose to interpellate him in this wise:
“FR. BERNAS. Just one question, and I am not sure if it has been categorically answered. I refer specifically to the proposal of Commissioner Gascon. Is this to be understood as a prohibition of a general law on divorce? His intention is to make this a prohibition so that the legislature cannot pass a divorce law?
“MR. GASCON. Mr. Presiding Officer, that was not primarily my intention. My intention was primarily to encourage the social institution of marriage, but not necessarily discourage divorce. But now that he mentioned the issue of divorce, my personal opinion is to discourage it, Mr. Presiding Officer.
“FR. BERNAS. No. My question is more categorical. Does this carry the meaning of prohibiting a divorce law?
“MR. GASCON. No, Mr. Presiding Officer.
“FR. BERNAS. Thank you.”
In a subsequent proceeding, the following exchange transpired between Commissioners Jose Bengzon and Maria Teresa Nieva:
“MR. BENGZON. Will this in any way preclude Congress from approving a law on divorce?
“MS. NIEVA. We discussed that yesterday and I think we reiterated that it does not.
“MR. BENGZON. It does not.
“MS. NIEVA. No.
“MR. BENGZON. So, even if this section or this sentence is approved, Congress will still have every right to pass a divorce law under certain circumstances as it may deem fit.”
It should be underscored that no Commissioner posited a dissenting view.
The foregoing erases doubts on the constitutionality of this measure.
Empirical data in countries which have instituted absolute divorce document that the passage of the law did not open the floodgates to separations and divorces.
We are ready at the proper time to answer salient interpellations and we are open to perfecting amendments.
Thank you Mr. Presiding Officer and distinguished colleagues.