Is Philippines ready for a divorce law?

Posted at 06/07/2012 8:16 PM | Updated as of 06/07/2012 9:07 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines remains the only nation in the world that does not have a law legalizing divorce. Is the country ready for such a law?

Gabriela Party Rep. Luz Ilagan believes that it is time that the country moves forward and help couples who can no longer live together.

Ilagan and and fellow lawmaker Emmi de Jesus have filed a House bill introducing divorce in the Philippines that is now with the House committee on revision of laws.

She said they are now waiting for the committee to schedule hearings to ask the sponsors and resource persons to explain the pros and cons of the proposed legislation.

House Speaker Sonny Belmonte on Wednesday said the divorce bill will be among the priority measures that will be tackled when Congress opens its 3rd regular session in late July.

Belmonte said he is supporting the enactment of a divorce law in the country.

Ilagan, in an interview with radio dzMM Thursday, said the country is ready for a divorce law.

PH only country without divorce

"We are ready and we are the only country left now. Two years ago, we still had Malta," she said.

"But when Malta had a referendum last year, na kahit iyung presidente nila was reluctant to grant divorce, noong makita niya iyung results ng kanilang referendum ay pumayag. Kaya ang Philippines na lang ang natitirang bansa na walang divorce," she said.

She said Italy, where the Vatican City is located, allows divorce. The Vatican, which is technically a sovereign city-state, does not allow divorce.

Current Philippine laws only allow annulment of marriage -- a long, expensive, and painful legal process for estranged couples who no longer want to live together as man and wife.

Not Vegas-style divorce

Ilagan said the conservatives in the Philippines should not compare the proposed legislation with lax laws on divorce in other countries such as the United States.

"May kaibahan, sa Amerika kaya tinatawag natin na divorce Las Vegas-style, puwedeng mag-asawa ngayon, tapos kapag hindi nila type, kahit mababaw lang ang dahilan, puwede na mag-divorce," she said.

"Sa atin naman, Pinoy style, mayroong mga kondisyon. Hindi madali na makuha rin iyung divorce. May mga kundisyon tayong inilagay sa isinusulong nating panukalang batas," she explained.

5 grounds for divorce

Ilagan's  bill proposes 5 grounds for divorce.

Couples who want to avail of divorce will need to fulfill at least one of the conditions set forth in the bill, if it becomes law.

According to the measure, couples who may apply for divorce include those who have been separated in fact for 5 years or those already legally separated for 2 years.

"Number 3, is when the couple have the situation na nandoon iyung condition for legal separation such as marital infidelity, abandonment, one of the spouses has been convicted for more than 6 years, and domestic violence," she said. "Ito naman ang mga basis for legal separation. Kung nandiyan iyan, puwede nang mag-file din ng divorce."

Grounds for legal separation may also apply when these same grounds have already caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.

In addition, psychological incapacity, causing one's failure to comply with essential marital obligations, and irreconcilable differences causing the irreparable breakdown of the marriage, will also be recognized as grounds for divorce.

Ilagan said under the proposed law, it will be the courts that will determine if couples are qualified to apply for divorce.

"It has to be proven in court, kasi hindi naman just because you filed for a divorce, you automatically get it," she said. "Siyempre ang korte ang magwe-weigh."

Divorce less expensive

She said the proposed divorce process will not be as financially, emotionally, and legally taxing as annulment.

"Mas hindi mahal pero hindi siya murang-mura naman na this will become very, very easy that people will avail of," she said. "Kasi, mayroon pa ring effort, mayroon pa ring proseso na susndin to reconcile."

"There will still be some expenses to be incurred dahil magha-hire ka pa rin ng lawyer pero this will not be as difficult or expensive as annulment," she added.

Ilagan cited data from the Office of the Solicitor General that says in Metro Manila alone, around 800 cases are being filed in courts for legal separation and annulment every month.

"Majority of these (annulment petitioners) are women, and 92% are Catholic. Kailangan talaga, harapin na natin ang problemang ito," she said.

Support from lawmakers

Even as the head of the lower House is supporting the proposal, Ilagan said the Senate is also likely to throw its weight behind a divorce bill.

She cited the cases of 4 senators who either have annulled marriages or are undergoing the process.

They are Senators Francis Escudero, Pia Cayetano, Loren Legarda, and Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, during the renewal of her wedding vows last year, also expressed support for divorce to be legalized in the Philippines.

"I think divorce should be available to people who become homicidal at the sight of each other. That's so much better than making each other miserable for the rest of their lives and impacting the lives of their children as well. I've always made known my views since I was RTC (Regional Trial Court) judge," she said.

"I am in favor of a divorce bill provided that grounds for divorce are very strict so that we will not encourage young people to rush into marriage and then rush out by divorce," Santiago said.

"I think the Senate is more open," Ilagan said.  "They (senators) have revealed situations na they would be sympathetic to people who would like to have divorce."

"I'm sure marami din naman sa lower House na nakakaintindi. Itong bill na ito, inisip para tugunan ang pangangailangan ng atin mga kababayan," she added.