Philippines to Allow Full Divorces


The Philippines law does not provide for divorce inside the country, and it remains the only UN-member state without legal provision for divorce. Actually, the Philippines, aside from Vatican City, is the only country in the world where divorce still remains illegal. Indigenous groups are not bound by the current laws on marriage, and Muslims, who make up about 11 percent of the population, are allowed to divorce in accordance with Shariah law. For majority non-Muslims, the law only allows for annulment of marriages. Annulments are expensive, adversarial and difficult to obtain. They require proof that the issues that caused the end of a marriage, like psychological incapacity, existed before the wedding. The process can take months, often years. Extramarital affairs are considered normal.

The problem is that this Philippines law affects women and children who can’t break free from unhealthy marriages the most. A woman, Lennie Visbal , is actually separated from her husband for years. Even though they haven’t been together in more than a decade, she has to continue using his last name and she gets no financial support for their son who lives with her. “I’m in limbo, I cannot move,” Ms. Visbal said. “Every time, there is a reminder that I’m legally attached to him.”

The Washington Post reports:

A move to allow full divorces for the first time in the Philippines is offering people like Ms. Visbal some hope. Under a bill approved by the House of Representatives on Monday, a wide range of reasons — including irreconcilable differences, abandonment, infidelity and abuse — would become legal grounds for ending a marriage.

The bill would need to be approved in the Senate then go to the president for review. While the Senate is required to give the measure a first reading and refer it for committee review once Congress is back in session on May 15, the conservative Senate majority leader, Vicente Sotto III, has openly opposed divorce and could delay putting the measure on the calendar.

No bill on divorce has ever made it this far in Congress. The measure is the rare piece of legislation supported by representatives from both the majority and opposition parties in the House. A survey released this month found that 53 percent of Filipinos support legalizing divorce. About 80 percent of Filipinos are Roman Catholic and the strong lobby of the Catholic Church has prevented previous attempts to pass a divorce bill.

According to the Washington Post, the measure’s supporters plan to lobby the Senate to at least give it a chance, and they take heart that some controversial bills in the past, like the one on reproductive health, have passed despite conservative opposition. “My primary concern is the sanctity of marriage,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement to local press. “Needless to say, I don’t want marriage and separation to be a ‘dime a dozen’ affair.”

Photo Credits: The Blue Diamond Library

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