On Jan. 29, House Bill 6779 or “An Act Recognizing the Civil Effects of Church Annulment Decrees” was approved on its third and final reading in the House of Representatives where 203 out of 292 members of the House voted in its favor.
Under the bill, an annulment decree issued by a church or religious sect in the Philippines will have the same effect as an annulment decree issued by a competent court. This bill however does not only cover the recognition of the civil effects of church annulment decrees but also provides, among others, the status of the child born or conceived before the issuance of the church annulment decree as well as the liquidation, partition and distribution of the conjugal properties.
Section 1 thereof provides that “[w]henever a marriage, duly and legally solemnized by a priest, minister, rabbi or presiding elder of any church or religious sect in the Philippines is subsequently annulled, dissolved or declared a nullity in a final judgment or decree in accordance with the canons and precepts of the church or religious sect, the said annulment, dissolution or declaration of nullity shall have the same effect as a decree of annulment, dissolution or declaration of nullity issued by a competent court.”
Thus, under Section 1 of HB 6779, the following requisites must be complied with:
First, the marriage must be duly and legally solemnized by a priest, minister, rabbi or presiding elder of any church or religious sect.
This means that the marriages solemnized by: (1) any incumbent member of the judiciary within the court’s jurisdiction; (2) any ship captain or airplane chief only in the case mentioned in Article 31 of the Family Code; (3) any military commander of a unit to which a chaplain is assigned, in the absence of the latter, during a military operation, likewise only in the cases mentioned in Article 32 of the Family Code; (4) any consul-general, consul or vice-consul in the case provided in Article 10 of the Family Code are excluded from its coverage.
Section 1 of HB 6779, when juxtaposed with Article 7 paragraph 2 of the Family Code, raises multiple questions: By requiring that the marriage must be duly and legally solemnized, does the bill require compliance with the essential and formal requisites of a valid marriage under the Family Code? Does it require compliance with the requirements stated in Article 7 paragraph 2 that any priest, rabbi, imam, or minister of any church or religious sect solemnizing the marriage (1) should be duly authorized by his church or religious sect, (2) should be registered with the civil registrar general, (3) should be acting within the limits of the written authority granted by his church or religious sect, and (4) that at least one of the contracting parties belongs to the solemnizing officer’s church or religious sect? If yes, then why doesn’t the bill simply refer to those marriages solemnized under Article 7 paragraph 2 of the Family Code?
Further, why is the word “imam” not reflected in the bill? In mentioning “presiding elder of any church or religious sect”, is HB 6779 adding another solemnizing officer? Basically, is HB 6779 amending/repealing Article 7 paragraph 2 of the Family Code?
Second, the marriage was celebrated in the Philippines.
Quite obviously, marriages celebrated abroad even by a priest, minister, rabbi or presiding elder of any church or religious sect are excluded.
However, another question arises: what is considered as “in the Philippines?” Will it include or exclude all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction? If the marriage is solemnized by a priest, minister, rabbi or presiding elder of any church or religious sect in a Philippine consulate or embassy abroad, will that be considered as in the Philippines? If so, wouldn’t it be clearer if the HB 6779 state “within the Philippine territory” instead?
Finally, the marriage is annulled, dissolved or declared a nullity in a final judgment or decree in accordance with the canons and precepts of the church or religious sect.
A lot of questions can arise from this but I think the most important one is on regulation. How will the government make sure of the absence of corruption and/or connivance between the spouses in availing of a church decreed annulment?
Furthermore, supposing all requisites are present, will a church annulment decree obtained abroad be recognized in the Philippines? Will said decree suffice or does it need to be judicially recognized as a foreign judgment that may later be enforced?
These are just some of the observations and questions that our legislators may want to consider as the bill progresses into a law as this proposed law is radical and may greatly affect the lives of Filipinos.
While it can be seen as a positive response to prevalent domestic abuse, HB 6779 may also have grave negative consequences as to the stability of marriage as an institution. In any case, this bill still has a long and arduous process to go through. We therefore just have to wait and see.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.
Jennidy S. Tambor is an Associate of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW), Davao Branch.