“Marriage is the death penalty.” This is a statement that might be heard at a bachelor’s party. Perverted comic relief, of course, because here in the Philippines, marriage is “till death do us part” — there is no divorce. But things will change; macho guys are in charge in government now, and the Divorce Law will probably be finally passed in this 18th Congress. Ironically, the Death Penalty Bill will also probably be filed on the opening day of Congress.
The death penalty had been in our laws since the Spanish colonizers came with their Codigo Penal guiding the justice system. It was only under the 1987 Constitution — ushered in by slain oppositionist Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino’s widow, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, who became president (1986-1992) after the February 1986 EDSA People Power that ousted the 14-year-long dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos — that the death penalty was abolished. But soon after, Cory’s successor retired general Fidel Ramos (1993-1998) reinstalled the death penalty by Republic Act No. 7659 in December 1993, to contain rising criminality.
Capital punishment was again suspended with Republic Act No. 9346, signed by President Gloria Arroyo in 2006. The penalties of life imprisonment and reclusion perpetua (detention of indefinite length, usually for at least 30 years) replaced the death penalty (Sun Star June 25, 2006). The Philippines joined 86 states in the signing of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that committed to the abolition of the death penalty within their borders, an irrevocable side agreement to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In his campaign to be president, Rodrigo Duterte vowed to restore the death penalty as a deterrent to crime in his anti-drug war (CNN Philippines, May 16, 2016). So now Duterte is president, and his majority at the House of Representatives has already approved the death penalty, and is awaiting sure approval in the Senate where he has an ally in Senator Grace Poe, who also believes in restoring the death penalty. In a 2017 poll, 67% of Filipinos supported the death penalty (inquirer.net, May 5, 2017).
Likewise do Filipinos support the Divorce Law. Based on an SWS survey conducted in 2017, 53% of Filipinos agree to legalize divorce in the country (Rappler, March 10, 2018). President Duterte now says he is against divorce. But his 27-year marriage to Elizabeth Zimmerman was annulled by the court in 2000, and he is now publicly living with his common-law wife; former Speaker of the House Pantaleon Alvarez, chief endorser of the divorce bill, is separated from his wife and openly has a girlfriend. Both politicians are quite open about their infidelities and relationships with women, a report says (mb.com.ph, July 14, 2014).
The divorce bill was first introduced during the 13th Congress in 2005. Bills pushing for divorce were also filed by lawmakers in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Congress (philstar.com March 20, 2018). Not only the naughty boys in the legislature and the naughtiest in the land want the availability of total legal dissolution of the vows of marriage. Gabriela Women’s Party has been pushing for the legalization of divorce since the 13th Congress when it first secured seats in the lower chamber, declaring that since the state recognizes the individual right to enter into a contract of marriage, (then) if there are violations of these obligations that sometimes even endanger the life and sanity of the couple, it is just for the state to also recognize their right to end the contract and exit the failed relationship (Ibid.).
If so, the Family Code of 1988 must be amended, to change the annulment procedures that are now allowed, which already consider separation of husband and wife under practically the same conditions as a divorce law (psychological incapacity, irreconcilable differences, coercion into marriage, insanity, infidelity, etc.). The only difference is that with divorce there is no need to establish nullity ab initio (at the start of marriage) and re-marrying is guaranteed. The pricing of legal and other services for the divorce is also proposed to be government controlled to assure “inclusivity” of the poor in this facility.
Yet divorce comes in conflict with the Christian religion of 93% of Filipinos (80% of whom are Roman Catholic) who believe “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). “Marriage is indissoluble when it is a sacrament. And this the Church cannot change. It is doctrine. It is an indissoluble sacrament,” Pope Francis emphasizes time and again. “‘Catholic divorce’ does not exist. Nullity is granted if the union never existed, but if it did, it is indissoluble,” Pope Francis said after the Synod of 2016. Christian annulment yes, but not secular divorce.
So also did Pope Francis declare the death penalty wrong in all cases, adding that the church would work “with determination” to abolish capital punishment worldwide (New York Times, Aug. 2, 2018). He ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, item no. 2267, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Francis called the death penalty “contrary to the Gospel” because “it is freely decided to suppress a human life that is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator, and of which, in the final analysis, God alone is the true judge and guarantor” (catholicnewsagency.com Aug 3, 2018). Christians believe that “The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away” (Job 1:21).
So, where are Christian Filipinos to go in this spiritual and moral dilemma of civil laws threatening religious tenets and values? Even the government reminds all that the choices on the Divorce Law and on the Death Penalty must be black or white, as the ubiquitous separation of Church and State is invoked. Pope Francis warns that “Relativism wounds people too: All things seem equal, all things appear the same… Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin” (The Name of God Is Mercy, pp 15-16).
The government must be sensitive to the deep chasm that threatens the very heart and soul of the 93% Christian Filipinos as they are swept into practical compromises with civil laws that negate basic tenets of their religion. Why force the collective guilt on the majority who must acquiesce to prospective judgments of fellow men on fellowmen, for the law of the land in a democracy is made by all and rules all.
What of the innocents, the wrongly accused who suffer the death penalty because of the prevarications of accusers and maybe the manipulations of prosecution lawyers? What about possible frame-ups and evidence-planting?
And what about marriages sought to be dissolved by the errant spouse for his/her own objective to marry another? What about the trauma to children of divorced parents?
These will evolve a degenerated Filipino soul.
Perhaps it is best not to have the Death Penalty and the Divorce Law in our country.
The first and most urgent thing for the Duterte administration to do is to restore faith and confidence in the justice system and law enforcement agencies. The “numbers game” that played out in the recent national elections brought forth the chilling effect of what political bullying might do in our jealously-guarded democracy.
Show us it isn’t so, before giving us more controlling laws.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.