“TRUTH is not decided by the majority.”

Church leaders remain firm in their stance against divorce, despite a survey showing more Filipinos are in favor of the measure.

The Social Weather Stations (SWS) released a survey last March revealing that 60 percent of adult Filipinos were in favor of legalizing divorce.

Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas called the pending divorce bill a “quick fix” to couples' incompatibilities that would provide an option for married couples to take the easy way out and separate because of “whimsical” grounds.

“When the [expedience] of divorce is readily available, a couple will be less likely to work on differences, dialogue and reasonably work out solutions because there is a quick fix to ‘incompatibilities,’” said Villegas, also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, in a statement last March 25.

Fr. David Clay, assistant executive secretary of CBCP Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the growing number of people in favor of divorce was not due to a weakening of Catholic morals. Instead, Filipinos are being influenced by Western ideologies and television programs that revolve around plots of infidelity, Clay said.

Rizalito David, a socio-political analyst and executive director of Pro-Life Philippines Foundation, cited the pressure of “economic hardships” as another reason for the supposed increase in support for divorce. “More likely they are feeling the pinch of hard labor, that is why they are considering separation. But this can be avoided if the government engages in programs that will keep the family intact,” David said.

Survey flawed?

David questioned the phrasing of the questions in the SWS survey, which he said had a pro-divorce slant. “For policy-making, survey questions should be phrased in an open-ended manner to be able to provide the respondents the reason for their answer,” he explained.

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The fourth-quarter survey of the SWS was conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 2014, using face-to-face interviews with 1,800 adults from Metro Manila, Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. The question asked was: “How much do you agree or disagree with this statement: ‘Married couples who have already separated and cannot reconcile anymore should be allowed to divorce so they can get legally married again.’”

The latest survey showed that six out of 10 Filipinos back divorce. In 2011, just half of respondents favored divorce, up from 43 percent in 2005. More married men and women also support divorce, according to the survey. “Among those who are married, 58 percent agreed in Dec. 2014, up from 49 percent in March 2011 and 41 percent in March 2005,” the SWS report showed.

Clay said the survey should have included the reasons of the respondents for agreeing to legalize divorce.

“I do not know the reasons people gave for answering they agree with divorce. Maybe they are concerned with other people who are not happy with their marriage,” Clay said.

“Just because they answered 'yes,’ or I agree,' it doesn't mean they will follow it. If you know you are a good Catholic, you don't have to follow what the survey says is popular.”

The SWS poll showed a consistent high percentage of support for divorce among those with “live-in” partners (66 percent in 2014, 62 percent in 2011 and 63 percent in 2005). It also found that 16 percent of Filipino adults have live-in partners, double the recorded eight percent in 2011 and four times the 2005 proportion of four percent. There are also fewer married individuals in the survey.

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David said it was expected that cohabiting individuals would have a high support for divorce. “Naturally, those who are engaging in live-in relationships have a higher tendency to favor divorce since they are the ones who have no clear intention of getting married in the first place,” the priest said.

Support for divorce was also shown to be highest among the socioeconomic class D population or the low middle class, with 60 percent agreeing to divorce, up from 52 percent in 2011 and 42 percent in 2005.

David said class D had the highest tendency to be affected by programs on TV and the latest trends. “Class D is where the majority of the Philippine population is included. These are the TV-watching population and those easily influenced by emotion, so you can easily predict a high percentage in this class as opposed to Class ABC which are the intellectuals, and the Class E or the urban poor who have no access to media,” David explained.

Remedies

Advocates of the divorce bill, or House Bill No. 4408, are hoping Congress will consider reviving discussions on the measure, for the sake of those in “failed marriages.”

“That many Filipinos now openly support the passage of divorce is an indicator that it has come of age,” Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said in an interview with GMA News Online. Ilagan explained that Gabriela’s proposal would not allow divorce on flimsy grounds.

Gabriela proposes to allow divorce for married couples who have been living separately for at least five years at the time of filing of the divorce petition, and with no hope of reconciliation. They must also have been legally separated from each other for a minimum of two years. The couple must prove in court that the breakdown of their marriage is irreparable.

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Catholic leaders warn that such a proposal would bring serious damage to family life.

Archbishop Villegas said divorce would traumatize children who would be forced to choose between their parents in custody battles. He added: “Visitation rights are a poor substitute for living with one’s parents.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about marriage as an “indissoluble union of man and woman that God has joined together,” and an important institution that affects the individual person and the society.

Church tribunals however grant a decree of nullity (annulment in common terms), on grounds such as underage marriage, forced consent, impotence, and mental incapacity. Physical abuse and violence are not grounds for annulment.

Villegas also cited provisions in the Family Code and Republic Act No. 9262 or the “Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act,” that would render the divorce bill unnecessary in cases of violence and abuse in marriage.

Data from the Office of the Solicitor General showed that 10,528 annulment cases were filed in 2012, an increase from 9,133 cases in 2011. Danielle Ann F. Gabriel

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