Pass the Divorce and Reproductive Health Bills Now
With Malta having approved a divorce law after a recent referendum, the Philippines remains the only country on the planet today that has no divorce law.
The Vatican, a city-state, does not recognize divorce either; this is only to be expected in the tiny (less than half a square kilometer in area) enclave of the Roman Catholic Church.
Ninety-five percent of Malta’s population is said to be Roman Catholic; yet, a couple of weeks ago, nearly 54% of its 306,000 voters cast their choices in favor of a measure that many feel is long overdue.
Maltese citizens enter the building to cast their vote in the divorce referendum on May 28.
Photo via BEN BORG CARDONA/AFP/Getty Images here.
Chile, in 2004, was the last country before Malta to legalize divorce.
Gabriela partylist representative Luz Ilagan is now seeking approval of a divorce bill (HB 1799) that had been filed during the previous Congress, but that was shelved.
Rep. Ilagan has been quoted as saying, “I appeal to my colleagues in Congress to… give Filipino couples in irreparable and unhappy marriages this option.”
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte favors the move, having said to reporters, “It is very difficult to let two people who cannot live together, continue to live together.”
Senator Pia Cayetano is also in favor, while in opposition is Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, saying, “Let’s not get into the habit of copying what other countries are doing.”
Naturally, the Philippine Catholic hierarchy announced “it would oppose any attempt to introduce divorce in the country through a referendum.” Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said referendums are a political act, “not a moral exercise.” Says Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, “What is right or wrong is not dependent on how many voted for it. What is moral or not is not a question of popular vote.”
With a related topic being discussed by lawmakers and society in general – the reproductive health bill – it is time for our country to face these issues head-on and make decisions that will benefit the greater number of Filipinos – not just the Roman Catholic ones.
The majority of marriages are broken up by infidelity and domestic abuse. The 2010 Annual Human Rights Report, conducted by the US State Department and released last March 9, points to “an alarming increase of domestic violence” in the Philippines – a 91% upward spike on the abuse cases reported to the Philippine National Police.
The only legal remedy Filipinos can resort to is a petition for marriage annulment; these are very expensive, which is unfair to the greater number of Filipinos who cannot afford this legal remedy, or any legal remedy for that matter.
It is also apparent that the majority of people filing for annulment are women, as fellow MST columnist Atty. Linda Jimeno said in one of her previous columns. It is often left to the women to clean up the messes made by the men in their lives. Why make it hard for them to have a second chance at happiness?
The OFW diaspora is also one reason for the break-up of families, through the adultery of either or both of the spouses. One of the negative factors that has led to this phenomenon is the framework of economic policies that promotes the Filipino worker as our number one export as a stop-gap to the overwhelming poverty in our country.
However, the social costs are high, from children growing up without one or both parents, and broken relationships that can no longer be made to work for a myriad of reasons.
The reality is that not all marriages work out. Not everyone is Catholic. But everyone deserves a chance to start over and find peace and happiness.
I myself had to save up for eight years to afford an annulment, because my ex-husband, who had left me and my children for another woman with whom he had a child, refused to get one; however, it was clear to both of us that we could never reconcile, because I was a victim of domestic abuse. The police refused to help me, saying the beatings were not their concern: “Away mag-asawa yan.”
And yes, before I filed for an annulment, I had counseling by a psychologist-priest who, in a lengthy therapy session, helped me realize that I could no longer stay with someone who was harming me and with whom I was not safe.
It was only after I obtained the annulment that the relationship between my ex and I improved. It was mainly because all expectations were lifted and we were both free to go on with our lives. We have also matured enough to settle into our roles as parents to our two daughters, something we were unable to do properly with unresolved issues hanging over our heads.
For people who cannot afford annulments or refuse to file, they simply leave their spouses, some to cohabit with other partners and have more children out of wedlock. Is this not what the Catholic Church calls “living in sin”? Yet this is the reality that they seek to perpetuate. Hypocrisy rears its ugly head once more.
Although it is claimed that 85% of Filipinos profess to be Roman Catholic, how many of them actually are? Where does this statistic come from? Why do clerics and congressmen cite this figure to claim “majority support” against the RH Bill and various incarnations of the divorce bill?
Are we a nation of children? Are none of us old nor mature enough to decide for ourselves, that a patriarchal society heavily influenced by celibate clerics bent on curtailing womens’ rights over their bodies and over their lives, still insists on having the final say?
What we are looking at here is a question of freedom of choice. Catholics and those who, for personal or religious reasons, do not wish to divorce nor use contraceptives need not do so. But let the options be available for others to take if they so decide.
Lawmakers, whether they are Catholic or not, have to remember that they are representing not only Catholics, but also people of other faiths and ideologies. It is through using logic, reason, and science that they should decide about matters that also affect non-Roman Catholics.
Meanwhile, the average person shrugs and goes with the dating gawi. As a person living with a “second wife” said, “Walang pakialam ang kahit sino kung ano ang gawin ko sa buhay ko. Diskarte ko ‘to.”
This is not about “copying other countries”. A referendum will decide once and for all what the people really need and want. This is not about “moral” issues. This is about the law and about choices for all Filipinos.
We are not a nation of children. We can make our own decisions and take a stand. In the matter of the RH and divorce bills, all we have to do is insist on our human rights and claim the freedom of choice that is rightfully ours. ***
VAW poster image here.