Divorce unconstitutional, says anti-RH lawyer

Posted at 01/08/2013 8:11 PM | Updated as of 01/08/2013 8:14 PM

MANILA, Philippines – A lawyer who has challenged the Reproductive Health (RH) law before the Supreme Court believes legalizing divorce in the Philippines is unconstitutional.

Atty. James Imbong, son of Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines legal counsel Jo Imbong, said a divorce law would have a tremendous effect on Philippine society by weakening marriages and families.

“As long as we have the Constitution that we have now, definitely divorce is not there to strengthen the family. The natural effect of divorce -- as the proponents say, divorce makes the life of the former wife or spouse better but the immediate effect there is the family is broken because you don’t have the natural parents,” he told ANC’s Headstart.

Imbong said not every trend outside of the Philippines should be followed. This, amid reports that aside from the Vatican, the Philippines is the only country in the world that does not have a law on divorce.

He said people in unhappy marriages can have their marriages annulled or undergo legal separation.

“Our Constitution states that the family is the foundation of our nation. I am not saying we don’t care about the wife who is battered or the children that are abused by the father, the broken marriage. There are more foundational principles that we have to preserve even if there are broken marriages,” he said.

5 grounds for divorce

In the interview, Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said the party-list group’s push for a divorce law is a response to the clamor of many Filipino women who are seeking another legal remedy to problems with their marriages.

The party-list lawmaker said many spouses do not want their marriages annulled because one has to be declared psychologically incapacitated for the plea to be approved. She added majority of people cannot afford annulment because it is expensive.
   
Ilagan said other spouses also do not want legal separation because it bars them from marrying again.

The lawmaker listed 5 possible conditions for granting divorce in the Philippines under House Bill No. 1799 or An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines:

  1. If the couple has been separated at least 5 years and there is no more chance of reconciliation.
  2. If the couple has been legally separated for at least 2 years at the time of the filing for divorce.
  3. Psychological incapacity
  4. Abandonment, marital infidelity or domestic violence or any of the grounds for legal separation
  5. Irreconcilable differences

Imbong, however, noted that it would be very easy to simulate grounds for divorce under the proposed bill.

He said his experience working at the Office of the Solicitor General showed him how some legal practitioners and psychologists would try to use abuse the grounds needed to grant annulment or legal separation.

He also rejected the reasoning that other Filipinos should have the same privileges as Muslims, which are allowed to divorce under the sharia court.

“The Constitution allows us to recognize the customs, traditions and cultural heritage of the region of the Muslims. We have personal Muslim laws. This is not a grant of divorce simply because they lobbied for it, they made studies.  This is older than us. This is their culture. It is a matter of political wisdom that the Constitution and our government is recognizing the tradition of divorce. We don’t have that,” he said.

In the interview, Ilagan said there were a total of 8,283 cases filed for nullification of marriages in 2010. This is nearly double the 4,520 cases of nullity filed in 2001.

Imbong said wives who have cheating spouses can always file for annulment or legal separation. Told that the annulment process could easily cost P300,000-P500,000, he said: “That’s besides the point. Just because it is legally expensive…We are talking about a law that grants a right to people rich or poor.”