Fr. Aligan defends the Catholic Church, saying that problems during marriage is due to lack of preparation. Photo by Patrick C. De Los ReyesIS IT time to allow divorce in Catholic Philippines?

The debate over whether husband and wife should be allowed to get out of wedlock has been revived anew, and the arguments remain the same.

Last July 27, House Bill (HB) 1799 or An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines was filed by Gabriela party-list representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus.

Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Commission on Family and Life, said existing laws are enough to address problems such as violence against women.

“There are ample and legal remedies in the Family Code and in the law. They can file for the annulment of the marriage or legal separation,” Castro said. “But in the case of violence against women and children, the proper remedy should be to file formal case against the spouse, then work for the annulment of marriage if necessary.”

Divorce is not the solution to failed marriages, he added. “Get marriage counseling first, bring everything into prayer then act resolutely after forming a sound and logical decision.  There are both legal and canonical remedies,” he said.

The Philippines allows legal separation, which allows husband and wife to live separately. But it retains the bond of marriage. Annulment invalidates marriage on certain grounds like mental incapacity, minority, and coercion.

President Benigno Aquino III seems to be ambiguous. He has rejected the bill, but is open to the idea of allowing legally separated persons to marry again if differences cannot be settled.

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“I believe there was some confusion on his (President’s) part. Under Philippine law, legal separation does not dissolve marriage and does not entitle one to re-marry.  Either he was referring to annulment or he was, in effect, supporting divorce,” Castro said.

‘Irreparable’ marriages?

The Philippines and Malta are the only states that do not allow divorce, excluding the Vatican.

Maza said face-to-face encounters with couples in “failed, unhappy, and irreparable” marriages pushed her group to revive the bill, which was rejected by previous congresses.

“The Gabriela Women’s Party filed the Divorce Bill in the 13th Congress and re-filed it in the 14th and 15th Congresses because we believe that it is time to have a divorce law in our country,” Maza told the Varsitarian. “Once passed, the law can provide another remedy for couples in irreparable marriages.”

Maza noted that HB 1799, the new bill, is unlike “no-fault” divorce laws in other countries because it follows stringent measures—the petitioner must have been separated from his or her spouse for five years and reconciliation is “highly improbable”; the petitioner has been legally separated for at least two years; there are “irreconcilable differences” that have led to irreparable breakdown of marriage; there is psychological incapacity; and any of the grounds for legal separation exist.

“The bill provides for the court to take necessary steps to reconcile the couples first before a divorce petition is granted.

Given our Catholic background and how we value the family, I think that divorce will always be the last option for couples,” Maza said.

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However, the CBCP, maintains divorce is not a solution and will only contribute to the destruction of the family.

“The family is the basic unit of society.  Destroy it and you will destroy society.  Matrimony is the cornerstone of the family.

The strength of marriage would mean the strength of the family and of society itself,” Castro said.

Filipino culture is slowly being poisoned by external influences to implement human measures that are against the law of God, he added.

“Because of the constant exposure of our people to the Western lifestyle and their relativistic view of morality, sadly, we have to admit that ideas such as divorce, abortion, population control, same-sex union, are slowly creeping into the Filipino mentality,” he said.

Unjust treatment

HB 1799 recognizes the occurrence of failed marriages and the “unfortunate plight of women” who fall victims to unjust treatment from their husbands.

According to the bill, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has recorded marital violence as one of the highest cases of injustice against women. The Philippine National Police has also recorded wife battery as the most prevalent form of violence against women, recording a total of 6,783 cases in 2009.

Maza complained that existing laws to remedy failed marriges are insufficient because they do not include grounds such as battery, infidelity, and abandonment.

Contrary to the Church’s stand, Maza claimed the divorce bill would strengthen marriage and the family as social instutitions.

“In the final analysis, it is not how many marriages there are but the quality of marital relationships that are free from violence, inequality and oppression that is important. These quality family relationships build strong foundations of society,” Maza said.

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Maza said the Philippine government must recognize that couples in failed marriages are separating. She pointed to data from the Office of the Solicitor General that more than 90% of the increasing number of petitioners for annulment are Catholics.

“It is the role of the state to recognize this and to provide a legal remedy,” she said.

Destruction of moral fiber

Fr. Rodel Aligan, dean of the Faculty of Sacred Theology, expressed doubts on whether the bill would achieve its objectives.

“Actually the laws are not enough. They are simply preventive. Even the laws would really not be the solution to the marriage problem,” Aligan said.

Aligan said irreconcilable differences are common to couples who are not prepared for marriage. “The Church always believes that if the marriage is legal, then there are no irreconcilable differences that can’t be patched up,” he added.

For marriage to work out, it’s not even enough that couples do their best. “Couples must not only do their best to make their relationship work but also make the element of the grace of God be present in them,” Aligan said.

“I do hope that Congress will not only consider the legality of the bill but also its morality.” Jennifer Orillaza and Monica Ladisla

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