The best thing about writing for Bulatlat.com is that I get to write about issues that I really care about and support, and I learn a lot during the processes of research, interviewing and coverage.
I am rabidly in support of Gabriela Women’s Party’s Reproductive Health (RH) bill, and I am a fan of their proposal for legislating a process of divorce in the Philippines. These are very concrete measures and proposals that aim to improve the quality of life of Filipinos in general and women in particular.
It’s been personally frustrating for me to acknowledge the depth of many Filipinos’ backwardness when it comes to embracing positive changes in the way we live our lives and go about living with others. I won’t even start going into the monumental political and economic changes that need to be done to lift the country from its perpetual and constantly worsening state of poverty and hopelessness; but instead focus on changes in how we function as individuals and as members of society. How do we view ourselves and our bodies? How do we view others and do we treat each other with the necessary respect?
Both the RH and divorce bills have attracted much debate, and some have taken to dismissing the two proposals as attacks against the Filipino way of life, against Filipino families. But are they, really? What is the Filipino way of life, anyway? To believe blindly in a concept of a deity who will damn your soul to hell for thinking what is best for your health and your children? Is the Filipino way of life a way of living without knowing what will help women have better maternal health care and how they can prevent unwanted or dangerous pregnancies?
All life is sacred (some more than others, some much less so), but how do you preserve the sanctity of life if you can’t protect, feed, care for it when it comes? The terrible and condemnable reality about this country is that so many children die daily because of neglect, malnutrition, diseases and hunger because their parents simply cannot provide for them. And the poor cannot be blamed — it’s the government I blame for destroying the sanctity of life for millions of Filipinos. Mothers die, too; and so many children are left half-orphaned.
And is it right for Filipinos to pretend to cling to the idea of what makes a good family (merely the presence of both mother and father who are married to each other) while ignoring the statistics of spousal abuse, violence against children (rape, incest,physical battering or even just the mere unwillingness and inability to provide for them and their needs), cruel infidelity and betrayal?
I really don’t get it. How will it help anyone to stop them from choosing what it right for their families, their health, their future? And how could it hurt anyone to provide them with options on how they can improve their quality of life?
But when the debate begins to swerve towards what the Roman Catholic Bible and the Church says, how can you begin to argue with God who is supposed to be all-knowing and omnipotent? How do you argue when the main charge is that you go against the will of God when you choose to control the number of children you have because you know you cannot take care and provide for them if you have too many of them?
Nevermind that soem of those who attack the RH Bill could, honestly, take a lot more lessons in human compassion and honest-to-goodness exposure to social realities and how the majority of Filipinos live and die (they live in poverty and want, surrounded by squalor, exposed to violence and disease, denied education and information on their rights; and then they die as a consequence of hard and oppressed living ). They care about saving people’s souls (so they say), but they do very little helping people live, take care of their bodies and become productive members of society.
I am a woman, a mother, someone’s wife and partner. What little benefits I enjoy from having been raised educated and aware of the kind of society I live in I want other women, mothers and wives/partners to also enjoy: information on my rights, access to social services, a measure of protection, and the right to demand that the government stop wasting my taxes and instead improve public health infrastructure and service.These are not things that are freely given– they all need to be fought for. This is why I support the RH Bill.
As for the divorce bill, who the hell wants to be chained to a relationship that no longer feeds and nourishes my soul and instead kills me in minute but myriad ways or through a few but extremely painful methods? I don’t want that, I doubt any other Filipino wants that either. One can only protect a family if there’s love and respect between its members. The option to be free from hurtful, oppressive relationships should be made available to everyone, and no moral judgments, please.
Iwrote this for Bulatlat.com.
Unhappy marriages where the parties have resorted to hurting and abusing each other should be allowed to end.
This was among the calls made by Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan as she made an appeal to the House of Representatives to seriously address the issues being raised in the proposals in House 1799 for the implementation of a divorce policy in the Philippines.
The Gabriela lawmaker once more brought up the issue in congress in the wake of reports that Malta’s recent referendum resulted to an affirmative vote to legalize divorce in the largely Catholic Mediterranean island. As a result of the referendum, Malta’s parliament is soon expected to pass a law to legalize divorce and the Philippines is left to be the only country in the world without a law on divorce. Almost three-quarters of Malata’s electorate voted last May 29, and 72 percent voted in favor of having divorce in the country.
Ilagan appealed to representatives to “not keep our country in the dark ages.” The Committee on Revision of Laws is set to tackle HB 1799 “An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines,” which Ilagan filed together with Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus. Ilagan said that the proposal is based upon the concrete experiences of married Filipinos and that it does not derive from divorce laws in other countries.
“I appeal to my colleagues in Congress to let the legislative mill run its course on the Divorce bill without further delay and give Filipino couples in irreparable and unhappy marriages this option. We cannot ignore the fact that existing laws just do not suffice. Getting an annulment can be very expensive while legal separation will not give estranged couples the right to remarry.”
Ilagan said that the proposed divorce bill elaborates on the need for a measure to address the commission of violence in marital relations. “Women in abusive marriages will definitely benefit from this legislation,’she said.
Official figures from the Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2009 showed that 19 women fall victim to marital violence every day. Among the forms of violence and abuse against women committed in 2009, wife battery ranked the highest at 6,783 or 72 percent of all cases.
Ilagan’s proposal aims to introduce divorce as another remedy to marriages on the brink of dissolution. Currently, the the Family Code provides three options, the declaration of nullity, annulment and legal separation. HB 1799 introduces another remedy, the remedy of divorce.
Divorce, Filipino style
The lawmaker said that the proposal is based upon the concrete experiences of married Filipinos. “These experiences were studied in their religious, socio-economic, political, cultural and legal settings, their lessons and insights were drawn and processed into the HB 1799 provisions,” she said.
Ilagan said that because the bill’s recommendations take off from the actual experiences of Filipinos, especially of Filipino women, proves that the proposal was not”plucked from thin air” and that it was animated by the collective experience of married Filipinos desperately searching for real solutions to to failed marriages.
“The country’s legal system has been unable to respond to the reality of failed and broken unions and marriages. This bill is uniquely Filipino. It is not modeled after divorce systems of other countries. And, most importantly, it is sensitive to the rich and diverse cultural – including moral and religious – environment of our country,” she said.
Ilagan said that she and other proponents prefer to call the proposal that seeks to introduce as “divorce-Filipino style.”
HB 1799 proposes that divorce should be granted petitioners (1) who have been separated de facto from their spouse for at least five years and reconciliation is highly improbable; (2)who have been legally separated from their spouse for at least two years and reconciliation is improbable; (3) when any of the grounds for legal separation under paragraph (a) of Article 55 of the Family Code has caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage; (4) when one or both spouses are psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations; and (5) when the spouses suffer from irreconcilable differences that have caused irreparable breakdown of the marriage.
Ilagan said that common and basic to all the grounds for divorce under the bill is that the marriage has already reached the “point of no repair.” She explained that the proposed measure also has provisions against possible abuses in resorting to divorce and that it has safeguards so it may not be used to destroy marriage and family as social institutions. These safeguards, she said, are the same with the safeguards for legal separation as can be found in Articles 56, 58 to 61 of the proposal.
“HB 1799 provides for equity between the spouses in divorce. It provides that the assets shall be equally divided between the spouses in order to provide for the well-being of each spouse and the children. It dissolves, in effect, the absolute community or conjugal partnership of gains since this property regime is inconsistent with divorce,” she said.
In the meantime, the proposal also leaves to the courts the duty to decide regarding the issue of custody of minor children based on their best interest and with provisions for their support. It states that in proper cases, the aggrieved party can claim damages in accordance with the Civil Code provisions on damages. It also provides that the parties will be disqualified from inheriting from each other by intestate succession and that any donation made by the innocent spouse in favour of the offending spouse may be revoked.
The proposal also takes into consideration the matter of divorce obtained in foreign jurisdictions. It said that these will be considered valid in the Philippines as long as the divorce is grounded on the circumstances enumerated in Article 55 (B) of the proposal.
“The sanctity of marriage is not based on the number of marriages existing but on the quality of marital relationships. When a marriage is no longer viable, divorce should be an option,” said Ilagan.
Divorce in Philippine history
The proponents of the divorce bill say that divorce had been part of the country’s legal system even before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century.
“Before the Spanish colonial rule, absolute divorce was widely practiced among ancestral tribes such as the Tagbanwas of Palawan, the Gadangs of Nueva Vizcaya, the Sagadans and Igorots of the Cordilleras, and the Manobos, B’laans and Moslems of the Visayas and Mindanao islands. Divorce was also available during the American period, starting from 1917 (under Act No. 2710 enacted by the Philippine Legislature), and during the Japanese occupation (under Executive Order No. 141) and after, until 1950,” said Rep. de Jesus.
It was only on August 30, 1950, when the New Civil Code took effect, that divorce was disallowed under Philippine law. Only legal separation was available. The same rule was adopted by the Family Code of 1988, which replaced the provisions of the New Civil Code on marriage and the family, although the Family Code introduced the concept of “psychological incapacity” as a basis for declaring the marriage void.
In recognition of the history of divorce in the Philippines, the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution left the wisdom of legalizing divorce to the Congress. Thus, the 1987 Constitution does not prohibit the legalization of divorce.
In the meantime, de Jesus said that the divorce proposal is respectful of and sensitive to differing religious beliefs in the Philippines. She said that it recognizes that the plurality of religious beliefs and cultural sensibilities in the Philippines demand that different remedies for failed marriages should be made available.
“It’s because of this that we retained the existing remedies of legal separation. Couples may choose from these remedies depending on their situation, religious beliefs, cultural sensibilities, needs and emotional state,” she said.
De Jesus also said that while divorce under their bill severs the bonds of marriage, divorce as a remedy is not necessary for the purpose of re-marriage.
“People can resort to it to achieve peace of mind and facilitate their pursuit of full human development,” she said.
She also explained that HB 1799 aims to make Philippine law consistent in the way it treats religious beliefs with respect to termination of marriage. Philippine law through the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 1083 ) allows divorce among Filipino Muslims, in deference to the Islamic faith which recognizes divorce.
“Non-Muslim Filipinos should have the same option under Philippine law, in accordance with their religious beliefs,” she said.
Women already applying for divorce
Women activists from Gabriela Southern Tagalog have already thrown their support behind the divorce proposal and demanded that President Benigno Aquino III support the bill as well.
“This is yet another important issue that the president should take a stand on. If Aquino really had a solid grounding on the issues affecting the Filipino people and women in particular, then he should not hesitate to give this proposal his support,’ said Rona Jane B. Manalo, Gabriela-Southern Tagalog secretary-general.
Manalo said that there is an obvious need for a divorce bill in the country, and that in the communities their group help organize, there are already residents who want to apply for divorce if it would already passed into law.
“We have no intention of dissolving or destroying the Filipino family as an institution, but what we want are communities and a country where individuals have respect for one other and violence is not committed against women in faulty marriages. We have no need for unions or marriages where there is no respect, where the partners in it have no peace or happiness. Marriages that are no longer happy and those where the parties have resorted to hurting and abusing each other should be allowed to end,” she said.
In an interview with media, Ilagan said that some 800 cases for legal separation and annulment are filed before the Office of the Solicitor General each month. In the meantime, over 43,650 applications were recorded from 2001 to 2007. Women account for 61 percent of applicants, while 92 percent are Roman Catholic.