Why Filipinos would rather live in sin than seek to legally dissolve a nonworking marriage, or why the Philippines desperately needs a divorce law

The Philippines is the only country in the world – outside of the Vatican, which has only about 30 women citizen/residents – that does not allow divorce. Many married Filipinos live in sin and illicitly when they separate and one or both ‘remarries’ outside the law. Only Filipinos who are Muslim can legally divorce under Philippine law.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines has used all its power and influence to prevent the passage of a divorce law in the country. When the Philippines gained independence in 1945, the church made sure divorce was no longer allowed under Philippine law.

Filipinos whose marriages are utter failures can seek recourse through a marriage annulment, a decree obtainable from the church or a civil court under very limited and highly improbable or difficult-to-prove grounds. The process for a legal annulment is long and tortuous, and a great majority of Filipinos could not afford the time or the cost of a church-sanctioned or civil court-promulgated marriage annulment.

The other alternative for Filipinos is “legal separation.” Legal separation is easy to obtain but does not dissolve a marriage – it simply allows the spouses to live separate from each other while maintaining the conjugal partnership.

Several attempts have been made in the past to enact a divorce law in the Philippines. All such attempts were defeated either by failure to pass Congress or by a veto of the president.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines has so far succeeded in making sure that the Filipino people – those who are not Muslim – are bound to a life of misery, sin, and illegal relationships, simply because they failed in their attempt at building a family. The Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines can take pride in helping to create a population of illegitimate children, adulterers, concubines, and all forms of broken homes.

But relief is in sight. Representative Edsel Lagman of Albay province has filed a bill – House Bill 116 – that seeks to allow absolute divorce in the country. The congressman says the bill would provide “a merciful liberation of the hapless wife from a long-dead marriage.” Rep. Lagman was the principal author of the country’s newly-enacted Reproductive Health Law which the Roman Catholic Church of the Philippines opposed with all its might.

The grounds for absolute divorce, under Lagman’s bill, in addition to those allowed for legal annulment, are: (1) when either of the spouses secures a valid foreign divorce; (2) gender-reassignment surgery; and, (3) when “irreconcilable differences or conflicts exist between the married couple, which are beyond redemption despite earnest and repeated efforts at reconciliation.”

If reason prevails in the Philippines – and there is no reason for it not to - the bill will pass both houses. The legislation will most likely be quickly signed by President Rodrigo Duterte into law – and the Philippines can leave that distinction of being a “marry-and-suffer-the-rest-of-your-life” society to the Vatican, where there are only a handful of married people.


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