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Senate panel approves absolute divorce bill

By NICK GARCIA Published Sep 20, 2023 1:30 pm Updated Sep 20, 2023 5:05 pm

A Senate panel has approved a consolidated bill seeking to institute absolute divorce in the Philippines.

The Senate Committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality recommended the approval of Senate Bill No. 2443, saying that while the State continues to recognize the sanctity of family, it's also duty bound to "safeguard the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights, uphold the fundamental equality before law and protect the best interest of children."

It's a substitution of consolidated Senate Bills 147, 213, 237, 554, 555, 1198, and 2047 on the Dissolution of Marriage Act.

The bill defines divorce as the “legal termination of a marriage by a court in a legal proceeding.”

Dissolution of marriage or annulment, meanwhile, pertains to a marriage "duly solemnized by a priest, imam, rabbi, or presiding elder of a church or religious entity, or duly solemnized or performed by an elder or leader of an indigenous cultural community (ICC) or indigenous people (IP) in the Philippines." It's by the canons or precepts of such church, religious entity, or customs and practices of ICCs or IPs.

To obtain an absolute divorce, spouses may file a petition separately or jointly.

Joint petitions from spouses with children must include a parenthood plan, which should cover support, custody, and living arrangements, among others.

SB 2443 lists as grounds for divorce the following circumstances:

  • five years of separation, whether continuous or broken, without a judicial decree of separation;
  • the commission of the crime of rape by the respondent-spouse against the petitioner-spouse, whether before or after the celebration of their marriage;
  • the grounds for legal separation under the Family Code; provided that physical violence or grossly abusive conduct… need not be repeated; provided further, that, lesbianism and homosexuality… shall not be a ground, unless either or both spouses commit marital infidelity;
  • a final decree of absolute divorce validly obtained in a foreign jurisdiction by any Filipino citizen;
  • irreconcilable marital differences or irreparable breakdown of marriage, despite earnest efforts at reconciliation; and
  • a marriage annulment or dissolution, duly authorized by a church or religious entity, or a marriage termination duly authorized by customs and practices traditionally recognized, accepted, and observed by an ICC or IP to which the parties belong.

Once divorce is granted, each party's status will become single for all legal intents and purposes, including the right to contract a subsequent marriage.

As for poor individuals, the court must waive payment of filing fees and other costs for the divorce.

The court will evaluate their independent source of income, property, and capacity to afford services of counsel, as well as whether they're part of a marginalized group.

The Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, is the only state outside the Vatican where divorce is illegal.

Lawmakers have filed bills to legalize divorce since 1999 but were never approved. 

In 2001, then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo opposed an absolute divorce bill.

At the 17th Congress during the Duterte administration, a House bill that sought to institutionalize absolute divorce in the country made it to the House plenary.

In 2022, a House committee likewise approved three measures seeking to legalize divorce.

During the same year, then-presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. said divorce shouldn't be "easy" if it would be allowed in the country.

At the time, Marcos said that while there are marriages that cannot be worked out anymore, he advised against following "other places" where getting a divorce is so easy.

“Shouldn’t it be that, in your marriage, you have to work on it?” he said. “You have to understand that there are times when it’s hard."

First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos, meanwhile, approves of divorce as some marriages don't work out, though noted the process should be "hard" to "break the bond."