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On March 19, 2018, the House of Representatives voting 134 in favor, 57 against, and two abstentions overwhelmingly approved on third and final reading a long-awaited bill legalizing divorce in the Philippines – the last remaining country, besides the Vatican, where couples do not have the right to absolute divorce.

This was the farthest any bill of this nature has reached in the legislative mill. But what was even more astounding was the fact that Representatives crossed party lines to support the measure, even after President Duterte’s spokesperson announced, only hours before the historic vote was taken, that the President does not support any bill allowing the dissolution of marriage.

Because the divorce bill in the 17th Congress was already approved on third and final reading by the House, the current divorce bills filed in the 18th Congress led by House Bill No. 100 which this Representation principally authored; House Bill No. 838 authored by Reps. Arlene Brosas, France Castro, Sarah Elago, Eufemia Cullamat, Carlos Zarate, and Ferdinand Gaite; and House Bill No.2263 authored by former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez should be prioritized and “may be disposed of as matters already reported upon the approval of majority of the Members of the committee present, there being a quorum”, as per Sec. 48 of Rule X of the Rules of the House of Representatives.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano already signified that although he personally does not believe divorce to be the solution to troubled marriages, he will allow free and open debate on the divorce bills and reiterated his call to House Members to “act depending on our conscience.” This is an unmistakable signal for this Committee to place the divorce bills on the fast lane so that the Plenary can deliberate and vote on a consolidated version.

Apart from the fact that the divorce bill in the 17th Congress was passed on third and final reading without much controversy and must be given due preference according to the House Rules, the divorce bills pending before the 18th Congress must be approved for the following other overriding reasons:

  1. It is an apt sequel to the Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Law or RA No. 10354. These sister measures are pro-woman legislation since the RH law guarantees a woman’s right to freely determine the number and spacing of her children and mitigates maternal death, while a divorce law liberates a wife from an abusive relationship and helps her regain dignity and self-respect.

  2. Filipinos support the enactment of a divorce law as evidenced by the following SWS surveys:

    • In 2005, only 43% of adult Filipinos backed the legalization of divorce, while 42% were against it.

    • In 2011, the support for divorce jumped seven percentage points to 50% of Filipinos in favor of divorce while opposition to it plummeted 11 points to 33%.

    • In 2015, the support in favor of divorce again increased by another 10 points to 60% or three in every five Filipinos wanting divorce to be legalized, while those against it fell to 29%.

    • In 2017, backing for divorce was pegged at 53% of respondents, while opposition to it was 32%.

    In its Fourth Quarter 2017 Social Weather Survey, the SWS summed up Filipinos’ views on divorce through the years:

    “Support for the legalization of divorce used to be split when SWS first surveyed it in 2005: 43% agreed, 12% were undecided, and 45% disagreed, for a neutral net agreement of -2. The question was asked for the second time six years after in 2011 and obtained moderately strong support. When it was asked for the third time three years after in 2014, it went to very strong and stayed at moderately strong up to 2017”.

  3. The enactment of a law on absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage is not prohibited by the constitutional tenets on marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family.

    No less than the Commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, which drafted the 1987 Constitution, were unanimous that the Congress has the authority to pass a divorce law under the present Charter.

    Records of the proceedings of the Constitutional Commission document that Commissioners Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Chito Gascon, Jose Bengzon and Maria Teresa Nieva concurred that despite the adoption of these principles on marriage and family life in the 1987 Constitution, the legislature is not foreclosed from instituting absolute divorce.

    No Commissioner registered a dissenting view on this issue.

    In fact, there is no provision in the 1987 Constitution which prohibits divorce.

    Similar or identical provisions on marriage and family life are found in the constitutions of countries which allow absolute divorce like Ireland, Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Portugal, Brazil, Poland, France, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation and Cuba, among others.

  4. There will be no quickie divorces. 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 following provisions militate against instant divorce:

    • 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.

    • 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.

  5. Divorce is not for everybody. The institution of absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage is definitely not for couples in harmonious, happy and vibrant marital relationships, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of Filipino unions. It is for the exceptional cases when the marital bond is irremediably damaged because marriage is still a human institution which could collapse and wither due to human frailty and mortal limitations.

  6. The State shall continue to protect the family and the sanctity of marriage. The institution of absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage does not dilute the steadfast commitment of the State to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family. For this reason, the bill provides for clear and categorical safeguards for the preservation and protection of marriage.

  7. It will not destroy marriage and the family as revered institutions. 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.

    Divorce will not destroy marriages because there is no more marriage or happy union to speak of when couples reach the difficult decision to seek divorce. Verily, in proceedings for absolute divorce, there is no more marriage to protect or destroy because the union has long perished. Paraphrasing the Supreme Court in Te v. Te, the severance of the marriage bond is a decent interment of a long-dead marriage.

    During the coming debates, let us stop talking about divorce was if it were the greatest of all tragedies.

    It is more tragic and heartbreaking to hold on to an unhappy marriage or stay in a violent and abusive relationship. It is more tragic and devastating to teach children the wrong lessons about love and family. It is more tragic and unbearable for members of the family to live in a hostile environment and endure an unhealthy and stressful home life.

    We have no intention to sugarcoat anything. Any which way you look at it, divorce means the legal end of a marriage. It is a trying and painful process and perforce, the bills filed before the 18th Congress ensure that divorce must not be resorted to lightly.

    Yes, divorce may be distressing but it is far from a death sentence. In fact, it can often save people from relationships and situations that can inflict more long-term emotional, psychological and physical damage.

    Divorce is not a monster that will destroy marriages and wreck marital relationships. Let us clear about this – the monsters that lead to the demise of a marriage are infidelity, abuse, financial problems, lack of intimacy and communication, and inequality.

    In marriage, as in most other personal matters, people generally believe that holding on tightly or never giving up is a sign of strength. But there are times when knowing when to let go takes even greater strength.

    Let us give couples, especially women, the option to let go, rebuild their lives, and have a second chance at marital bliss.