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Monday, March 30, 2015

Divorce: Perhaps they’ll listen now


ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
Divorce-DecreeIn the last 10 years, the Social Weather Station (SWS) has conducted only three surveys on the need to have a divorce law in the Philippines. In each of the last two surveys, the number of those who favored divorce rose dramatically, indicating a clear change of Filipinos’ attitude towards divorce.
In May 2005, about 45% of respondents favored divorce. This figure jumped to 50% in March 2011. The latest survey, which was conducted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 last year, revealed that 60 percent of 1,800 respondents agree that “Married couples who have already separated and cannot reconcile anymore should be allowed to divorce so that they can get legally married again” while 29 percent disagreed and 11 percent were undecided on the issue.
The latest figure should finally convince our lawmakers that it is time to revisit the proposed divorce bill that has been gathering dust in Congress for more than 15 years.
For many years now, the issue of divorce would crop up, discussed in the media and in Congress briefly, and then vanishes from the public consciousness just as fast.
In July 2010, encouraged by the recent overwhelming approval in a referendum of the proposed divorce law in Malta, Gabriela party list Representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus revived House Bill 1799, entitled “An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines”.
Malta, a small island nation below the Italian peninsula, is 95% Catholic while the Philippines is 81% Catholic. The passage of Malta’s divorce law left the Philippines the last holdout in the divorce issue outside of the Vatican.
HB 1799 sought to give couples in irreparable marriages a legal remedy in addition to laws on legal separation and annulment. The bill never got beyond committee level. Ilagan and fellow Gabriela Party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus refiled the bill last year as HB 4408.
Under the bill, divorce may be filed if the petitioner has been separated de facto from his or her spouse for at least five years and reconciliation is highly improbable; if the petitioner has been legally separated from his or her spouse for at least two years and reconciliation is highly improbable; when any of the grounds for legal separation has caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage; when one or both spouses are psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations; or when the spouses suffer from irreconcilable differences that have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.
In 2012, when two young senators admitted that they had parted ways with their respective spouses, fellow young and separated Senator Pia Cayetano said it was about time discussions on the proposed divorce bill be resumed.
Cayetano, who has been separated from her husband for 11 years now, said: “I really think it’s high time for the divorce bill.”
“I’ll tell you why. I’ve talked to lawyers, psychologists and psychiatrists and it’s so traumatic to go through annulment because under our Philippine laws, you have to blame someone, you have to say you’re incapacitated, you’re saying that this marriage never existed, which is not true,” she said.
“Ask anyone, I’m sure at some point in time whether it’s one year or 10 years or 20 years, they loved each other, so why can’t you call it what it is? We loved each other, something went wrong, it’s done. Why will you say it never existed?” she asked.
The divorce bill was first introduced in the 11th Congress, about the same time the RH bill was filed, making them the most contentious, yet unresolved measures for more than a decade. The RH Bill has been passed over the strong objections of the Church, but the divorce bill remains hanging.
“Let us not keep our country in the Dark Ages,” Ilagan said in pushing for the approval of the bill.
Indeed, the country has been kept in the dark primarily because of the stubborn stand of the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines against it. The Church has remained blind to the realities of modern Philippine society, just as it has remained incognizant of the adverse effects of uncontrolled population growth to the Philippines and its people.
Extreme poverty, lack of education, financial problems, prolonged separation in the case of couples where one or both are working abroad, and other social ills that were not prevalent until about a few decades ago, are putting many marriages in the Philippines under tremendous pressure.
The phenomenon of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos departing for work abroad annually, leaving behind their spouses and children, has resulted in broken families and wayward children. It is not uncommon for the spouse left behind to commit adultery, and their children to grow amidst this immoral environment and without the guidance of both parents. The same goes for the spouse abroad, who meets another man or woman, married or unmarried, who shares his or her loneliness and cohabit, sometimes bearing illegitimate children.
The adultery, as we all know, is not limited to spouses whose partner is abroad. Even those who earn enough for both spouses to remain in the country are not immune from marital transgressions. Many men maintain mistresses mainly because of the availability of young women willing to cohabit without the benefit of marriage just to escape poverty.
A big majority of our national leaders, including the lawmakers on whose hands fall the authority to pass such a law, are men who want to enjoy the best of both worlds – keeping their family intact while enjoying the benefits of infidelity.
It is not a coincidence that those pushing for the divorce bill in Congress are women. It is also not a coincidence that all over the world, a big percentage of those filing for divorce are women. It is not difficult to understand that in most failed marriages, it is the women who suffer more – victims of domestic abuse and violence, and neglected or abandoned by philandering or alcoholic husbands. Many of these women suffer in silence in the Philippines.
In millions of households, both men and women who are trapped in marital commitment constantly quarrel, often in front of their helpless children who grow up in a confused and violent environment. Often, men turn to other women and bear illegitimate children, and then abandon their legal wives and children because of lack or laxity of laws that should have held them accountable.
Many couples have irreparable differences that lead to almost daily verbal and physical abuse. And yet, they remain living together for lack of a law that would allow them to legally and properly part ways, and seek the peace and happiness that they couldn’t find in their present partner.
Many couples have simply lost the love that brought them before the altar or before a marriage minister, and have found instead contempt and sadness. And yet, they are confined to their hopeless situation because of the lack of a divorce law.
Opponents of divorce say there are legal remedies for these people stuck in failed marriages.
There is legal separation, a decree rendered by a court allowing spouses to live separately but they remain married to each other. The couple can also file for annulment, or declaration to nullify marriage. The legally separated spouses cannot re-marry, while in the case of annulment and declaration to nullify marriage, they can re-marry. The proposed divorce law also allows them to re-marry, with added protection, such as child support, alimony and child custody.
The problem with annulment of voidable marriage and declaration of nullity of marriage is that most of the grounds are difficult to prove and require a lot of money to prove before the court. Only the rich can and have actually availed of its benefits, that’s why it’s not unusual to read about movie and TV celebrities and businessmen filing for annulment of marriage, and why until three years ago, only 8,000 annulments have been issued so far. And worse, it is the aggrieved party who must shoulder the exorbitant costs.
Meanwhile, the average Maria has to continue to suffer psychologically and physically from her marriage to an abusive and irresponsible husband. The children likewise have to continue living in an environment where contempt and abuse have replaced love and respect. The end result: A society of confused, wayward and lawless individuals.
For years, lawmakers have largely ignored the call for a divorce law in the Philippines because of pressures from the Roman Catholic Church. With three out of five Filipinos favoring a divorce law according to the latest SWS survey – as folk singer Don McLean says in the song “Vincent” – “perhaps they’ll listen now.”
(valabelgas@aol.com)

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