Divorce has been a contentious topic in the Philippines, considering that besides Vatican City, it is the only country in the world that has no divorce laws. The only way to dissolve a marriage in the country is through a church-sanctioned annulment, which Filipinos find too costly and complex.
The word “divorce,” however, has recently entered our vocabulary, following the approval of House Bill No. 7303, which seeks to legalize absolute divorce and the dissolution of marriage. Now that the bill is set to be submitted to the Senate is change finally on the horizon?
Here’s what we know so far.
Why a Divorce Law?
House Bill No. 7303 – “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines” is a proposed measure to allow individuals in abusive and “irremediably failed marriages” to secure absolute divorce “under limited grounds and well-defined judicial procedures.”
In most cases, it’s the woman who seeks divorce or annulment to escape an abusive relationship. This has made the protection of women in danger part of the bill’s guiding principles. The eventual divorce decree also seeks to protect children from the pain and stress resulting from their parents’ marital problems and to grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again.
The country’s existing annulment law has been criticized as prohibitive and anti-poor, prompting the House of Representatives Committee on Population and Family Relations to file the divorce bill. The bill expands the grounds for annulment and provides the option to file for divorce, a legal separation, or annulment of marriage.
Under the proposed measure, the process shall be inexpensive and efficient.
What are the Provisions?
The eventual decree, first and foremost, provides that the petition for absolute divorce shall be inexpensive and affordable, particularly for court assisted litigants or petitioners. Litigation and fees would also be waved for “indigent” applicants, with “indigents” defined by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez as those whose real properties are below P5 million.
The eventual decree also provides for a six-month “cooling off period” as a final recourse for the concerned spouses to reconcile. This provision, however, is waived in cases of domestic abuse or if the safety of the spouse or the child is threatened.
Summary proceedings can happen under specific grounds, such as irreconcilable differences, gender reassignment surgery, psychological incapacity, and if spouses have been separated for at least five years and legally separated for at least two years.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman maintained that while the bill makes divorce accessible, it also provides for the strengthening of marriage and family life through programs before and after marriage. He adds that the bill still seeks to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution.
Grounds for Divorce
- existing grounds for legal separation and annulment under the Family Code of the Philippines
- separation, in fact, for at least five years
- legal separation, by judicial decree, for at least two years
- psychological incapacity
- gender reassignment surgery
- irreconcilable differences
- joint petition of spouses
Will the Senate Approve the Bill?
While the divorce bill has been approved in the lower chamber, the chances for the Senate to pass one are slim. Several senators have already expressed staunch opposition against divorce in the PH. President Duterte is also against the proposed measure, but Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is confident that the president will rethink his stance.
Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Joel Villanueva, and Francis Escudero, while strongly against divorce, are in favor of amending the annulment law to make it more affordable and accessible. Gatchalian adds that women and children should be given more protection under the proposed annulment law.
But what do the people say?
An unofficial poll in 2013 revealed that more than 90 percent of respondents favor divorce in the country; about 7 percent were against it. A more recent survey though finds that 53 percent of Filipinos agree to legalize divorce while 32 percent disagree with its legalization.
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