By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
HANA ANN SANTOS, 30, has been separated for five years. Her husband is now living with another woman and refuses child support. Her only hope for now is to have their marriage annulled, which could take years and cost her as much as P300,000.
But Ms. Santos is hoping that she doesn’t have to spend that money once a Philippine bill allowing divorce in the predominantly Catholic nation — the only one in the world apart from the Vatican City where divorce is outlawed — is passed.
The Philippines also allows couples to take the route of legal separation so they can live apart but not remarry.
“Annulment is impractical especially for a single mother like me,” Ms. Santos said in an interview. “I would rather spend that money on my daughter’s education.”
A number of lawmakers had opposed the divorce bill filed in the previous Congress, among them President Rodrigo R. Duterte and boxing champ Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, a born-again Christian who often quotes the Bible verse about man not being allowed to separate what God has joined together in marriage. Mr. Pacquiao also claims to be a marriage counselor.
Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, a feminist lawmaker, who re-filed the divorce bill, couldn’t agree less.
“The number and proportion of Filipinos who are separate has been increasing over time — demonstrating that the denial of legal remedies to those seeking to dissolve their union has largely been an ineffective way of upholding the policy of the state to keep families together,” she said in the bill’s explanatory note.
The Philippine Commission on Women said married couples should be able to clear away a lengthy, exhaustive, inhumane and expensive court proceeding such as annulment, and that gives them the liberty to start all over again and remarry which legal separation cannot provide.
“Divorce can be the best alternative given such circumstances,” according to a position paper emailed by Cecile B. Gutierrez, officer-in-charge of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).
Annulment cases increased by more than 80% to 8,283 in the nine years to 2010, the commission said, citing data from the Office of the Solicitor General. In 2013 alone, half of the 10,000 petitions for annulment and nullity proceedings were started by women.
Under the Family Code, lack of parental consent, insanity or psychological incapacity, fraud, force, intimidation, undue influence, impotence, and sexually transmissible diseases may be grounds for annulment.
The divorce bill faces rough waters in both Houses of Congress even though it has more chances of being passed than the bill giving gay and lesbian couples more rights, Louie C. Montemar, Polytechnic University of the Philippines sociology professor, said in a mobile phone message.
He noted that while the president has opposed the measure, divorce advocates should use women leaders “who have the ears of the president.”
The divorce bill has polarized Filipinos mainly due to a generation gap, according to Hansley A. Juliano, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University. “Expect that those who were born before the mid-1970s to late 1980s to be less inclined to support or discuss the idea altogether,” he said. “Succeeding generations are becoming more open to the discussion. Younger generations are also potentially divided here based on social background, political and religious upbringing, plus personal experience.”
Mr. Juliano said divorce advocates should get enough support from lawmakers and the public by making it a civil or criminal rights issue because it protects men and women in abusive relationships as well as their children.
Warren S. Maneja, a theologian at the Catholic Church-run University of Santo Tomas, said divorce would “open a figurative floodgate that might lead to a bigger problem in society.
“From the church’s perspective, divorce is dividing the family which is the core of every society, the core of every church which has been blessed by God,” he said by telephone. “The sacrament of marriage is not just a commitment between two persons, it’s also a commitment of the married couple to God,” he said.
More than half of Filipinos support divorce, according to the results of a 2018 poll by the Social Weather Stations.
Ms. Santos, mentioned at the outset, thinks the Catholic Church should not meddle in the issue. “Those of us who suffer in our failed marriage have no choice. We didn’t choose our marriages to end this way.”