By Maria Victoria Rufino
For three decades, there have been attempts to pass the divorce bill in Congress. It has provoked waves of arguments and nothing happened.
The Philippines is now the only country in the world (except the Vatican) that does not have divorce. The other Catholic countries passed the law many years ago. Italy was one of the first. Ireland passed it a few years ago.
The ultra-conservative politicians and the religious leaders are consistently and vehemently against it. They consider divorce a threat to the family, the basic unit of society.
Liberal thinkers and women’s groups have been actively lobbying for the passage of the bill. They argue that divorce shall protect women and children.
Well-known and respected family lawyers/professors have explained the situation. “Divorce is a great equalizer. It will strengthen marriages. The Constitution does not contemplate the protection and strengthening of a marital relationship that is abusive,” Katrina Legarda emphasized. “Why will a woman stay with a man who rapes his children and batters her? Why will a husband stay with a woman who nags all day, plays mahjong, spends his money, and neglects his children?,” she asked. “[Divorce] takes out the hypocrisy! We have to recognize that we are human beings and we make mistakes.
“God has nothing to do with civil law. There are Church declarations of nullity. Just because there is a divorce law, it won’t mean that people will take advantage of it.”
A woman legislator noted, “Men are against divorce because they are afraid that their wives will leave.
“The real problem is — Men want to have their cake and eat it, too.”
“Not necessarily,” a male banker countered. “A divorce would give women equal rights. It would give protection to the spouse and the children.”
The debate on the issue has raged since the mid-1980s. The forces opposed to divorce continue to wield their influence to block and delay the passage of the law. For as long as possible.
Meanwhile, the plight of the battered spouses and abused children shall not be addressed,
Until a divorce law is passed, abandoned wives shall remain legally chained to abusive, philandering, irresponsible husbands. They would be left “holding the bag.” They would continue to suffer in limbo because they have no other choice.
Men and women are created equal. However, in Filipino society, the cultural double-standard favors the man. More so in marriage.
Unless a wife is financially independent, she is at a disadvantage. The woman is at the mercy of her husband-provider. If he is abusive — physically or emotionally — toward her and the children, she has to bear it with martyr-like stoicism. If a husband walks out and refuses to support the family, the separated wife cannot sue for alimony.
Under the Family Code of 1988, Article 35 cites “psychological incapacity” as a ground for annulment. (The Family Code was patterned after Canon Law.) There are similar grounds in a civil annulment and an Ecclesiastical Declaration of Nullity. However, acquiring one does not automatically guarantee the granting of the other.
A marriage that is declared null and void by the State is one that never existed because of legal obstacles or severe psychological impediments at the time of the marriage — i.e. homosexuality, alcoholism, and mental instability — may exist at the time of the wedding but are manifested after. Sometimes, years later.
In the case of an annulled marriage, the State recognizes the legitimacy of children born during the marriage and they are entitled to support. The “ex-wife” does not necessarily receive any financial settlement.
The main difference between a divorce and an annulment is obvious. With a divorce law, the State recognizes that there was a valid marriage. If the marriage breaks up, the husband is required to provide financial support for the wife and children.
One of the major arguments against the divorce bill is that there would be so many broken marriages.
Tess Herbosa, senior partner of ACCRA Law Office, disagrees. She offered an interesting insight.
“The result of the enactment of a law allowing divorce is not necessarily a drastic increase in the number of broken marriages. Having a jack and a spare tire does not mean that you would change a tire whenever you feel like it.
“You will use the jack and spare tire only when you have flat tire and you can no longer drive on,” she said.
“If your marriage is a flat tire, then you can and should be able to resort to divorce in order to get on with your life. Otherwise, going through a divorce proceeding is like using the jack and spare tire to replace a good one.
“All the time and effort for what?”
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.