Divorce law long overdue

WILL divorce be finally legalized in the Philippines despite steadfast objection by the Catholic Church?

It seems likely now that the House committee on population and family relations has approved bills to legalize divorce.

One recalls that in 2018 or one year before the end of the 17th Congress, a similar bill had breezed through the House of Representatives but got stranded when the Senate failed to pass its own.

This corner agrees with bill author Cong. Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) that divorce would not break marriage; it would merely confirm an already “broken marriage.” 

As to whether the bill would get the same nod in the Senate remains uncertain, what with  President Rodrigo Duterte — despite his annulled marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman – taking the opposite stand.

Divorced or not, any citizen could “happily separate” from a spouse on mere incompatibility. But how about those who want to remarry?

Christian sects that allow divorce cite one Biblical ground – unfaithfulness. Matthew 5:32 clearly states that “a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”

It would be presumptuous for a hopeless union to continue because of a seemingly contradictory Bible verse: “What God has joined, man must not separate” (Matthew 19:6).

On second thought, why hold God responsible for joining mismatches?

The Philippines and the Vatican (a city-state within Italy) are the only nations prohibiting divorce.

The first Philippine divorce bill I read about was authored by the late Assemblyman Arturo Pacificador in the early 1980s. It proposed three grounds for divorce: adultery on the part of the wife and concubinage on the husband’s (yes, the aforesaid Biblical ground); an attempt by the respondent against the life of the petitioner; and abandonment of the petitioner by the respondent without just cause for at least five consecutive years.

“Times have so changed,” said Pacificador in his explanatory note to the bill, “that even the predominantly Catholic Italy and Brazil have passed their own divorce laws.”

Pacificador’s first two aforesaid grounds are in fact among the existing grounds for legal separation which entitles spouses to live separately without dissolving matrimony.

Surprisingly, Pacificador missed citing one of the Catholic Church’s grounds for annulment – the inability of the respondent to perform the sexual act.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) – an organization of 10 non-Roman Catholic Christian sects — favors divorce, but only “as last resort if everything else fails and the dissolution of the marriage ties appears to the couple as the only possible way of redeeming themselves and their children.”

There are Catholic priests, however, who believe in divorce. One of them, Cebu-based Fr. Antonio Maria Rosales, is vocal against preserving an unhappy marriage: “Is such a marriage not a ‘death sentence’ to the couple and their children?”

Pacificador’s bill might have passed had then First Lady Imelda Marcos not intervened. As a result, the subservient Batasang Pambansa echoed her opinion that “it could weaken the family and demoralize the children.”

From whatever angle we look, the absence of a divorce law drives the problem of broken home from worse to worst. Without legal remedy, estranged couples are forced to either live in with a new partner or indulge in short-time affairs. On the other hand, the couples who choose to remain under one roof due to religious bigotry are already condemned to hell on earth.

Bless the others who think for themselves. They would rather live outside, than inside, a broken home. ([email protected]/PN)

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