The Senate on Tuesday, September 17, conducted its first ever hearing on the proposed divorce law in the Philippines.
Presiding over the hearing is Senate committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality chairperson Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who called this first deliberation on the divorce bill “historic.”
“This is history in the making,” she said in her opening statement.
“We are in the process of making history by crafting a policy to make dissolution of marriage available to all Filipinos who want second chances in love, to rebuild their families and start all over again,” she added.
Hontiveros, while a staunch supporter of the institution of marriage, said Filipinos especially women and their children “should have the right to turn the page and be free from abusive and loveless relationships.”
“My sympathy and support go out to my countrymen, especially since there are many women who are victims of domestic violence and psychological abuse,” she said in Filipino.
“They, together with their children, deserve all the chances available in this world to build nurturing families and find true and meaningful relationships,” the senator added.
Hontiveros also maintained that the divorce bill is “pro-marriage, pro-family and pro-children” as it will make people respect marriage more by being more discerning with their choices in life and protects children from abuse and rebuilds broken families.
“It makes us respect marriage more by being more discerning with our choices in life. It protects children from abuse and rebuilds broken families,” she said.
“We can call it whatever we want. Divorce. Dissolution of marriage or whatever. The important thing is, giving a second chance to our people,” Hontiveros added.
Change of term
According to Hontiveros, if the lawmakers have an issue with semantics, advocates were open to changing the term “divorce.”
She said if the term “divorce” is contentious, then “dissolution of marriage” would be issued in the committee report she will draft.
“The term dissolution of marriage is acceptable already for the advocates. It’s fine with them if the word divorce is already contentious, as long as the grounds they are asking for to have a second chance [in life] is covered,” Hontiveros said.
She added that some of her colleagues in the Senate are more inclined to support the “dissolution of marriage.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III himself had said that a measure with the term “dissolution of marriage” has a better fighting chance in the upper chamber than divorce.
“I don’t have the exact numbers right now pero in terms of sensing, I do sense there is more openness to the dissolution of marriage bill compared to other contentious bills,” Hontiveros said.
She also said that she is willing to hold more hearings or technical working group meetings before elevating it to the plenary should there be calls for extensive discussion on the issue.
Banning divorce is ‘tortuously inhumane’
Resource persons who were at the hearing stressed that banning divorce does not only lead to exploitations but is also “tortuously inhumane.’
Marc Anthony Luna from the Divorce Coalition of the Philippines addressed the panel saying that annulment is “one of the milking cows” of lawyers. A former OFW, Luna said he didn’t pursue annulment because he doesn’t believe in it and it is a process that is being exploited.
Independent journalist Ana Santos said that the divorce ban in the Philippines has created scammers who take advantage of married couples breaking up. Apart from lawyers (both fake and legitimate) who run away with their clients’ money, she also added that there are courts that manufacture annulment proceedings and decisions.
Santos, who went through an annulment, said the divorce ban is “tortuously inhumane” as it “not only takes such a long time, not only bleed you of your money but it pits the couple against each other.”
An annulment is a civil procedure in which a judge declares the marital union between a husband and a wife no longer valid. Proceedings cost at least P200,000 and it is the only option for Filipino couples who want to break up their marriage. A predominantly Catholic nation, the Philippines is one of the two countries that still ban divorce (the other one is Vatican City, an independent ecclesiastical sovereign city-state).
The Family Code of the Philippines states that a marriage can only be annulled if:
• The party in whose behalf it is sought to have the marriage annulled was 18 years of age or over but below 21 and the marriage was solemnized without the consent of the parents, guardian or person having substitute parental authority over the party
• Either party was of unsound mind
• The consent of either party was obtained by fraud
• The consent of either party was obtained by force, intimidation or undue influence
• Either party was physically incapable of consummating the marriage with the other and such incapacity continues and appears to be incurable
• Either party was afflicted with a sexually-transmissible disease found to be serious and appears to be incurable.