pop goes the world: moving on

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  20 December 2012, Thursday

Moving On

“Divorce Next – Belmonte” blared the front page of another broadsheet in 70-point black type, signaling renewed interest in the topic after the recent landmark passage of the reproductive health bill.

PDI divorce next

Image here. Photo of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on the left.

The news article accompanying that headline cited House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte as saying that he supports the divorce bill and thinks it possible that such a law could be passed by the next Congress.

The Philippines is the only country in the world that does not have a divorce law, an effect of prevailing cultural norms instilled during the Spanish colonial period and perpetuated by the Roman Catholic majority. Roman Catholicism forbids divorce but allows marriage annulment in a process governed by strict criteria.

However, divorce is available to Muslim Filipinos under Presidential Decree No. 1083, the “Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines.” Under its Chapter III, divorce is recognized between Muslims and a Muslim man and his non-Muslim wife if married under Muslim law or this particular code, which “recognizes the legal system of the Muslims in the Philippines as part of the law of the land…”

Historically, divorce was widely practiced during pre-colonial times, according to an interesting blog post dated 5 August 2008 at the website Philippine e-Legal Forum of Jaromay Laurente Pamaos (JLP) Law Offices.

In the 16th century, absolute divorce was practiced by tribes as widely scattered as  the Igorots and Sagadans of the Cordilleras to the Tagbanwas of Palawan to the Manobos, B’laans, and Muslims of Visayas and Mindanao.

Also according to the JLP post, divorce was available during the American colonial period from 1917 to 1950. Divorce was not allowed in the New Civil Code that took effect in August 1950; only legal separation was, and this was adopted by the 1988 Family Code, which also “introduced the concept of ‘psychological incapacity’ as a basis for declaring [a] marriage void.”

There have been various incarnations of divorce bills filed in Congress as far back as 1999 at least. That one was filed by Representative Manuel C. Ortega (House Bill No. 6993). Senator Rodolfo G. Biazon filed one in 2001 (Senate Bill No. 782) as did Rep. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo (HB No. 878). This was followed in 2005 by one filed by Reps. Liza Masa and Luzviminda Ilagan (HB 3461).

The most recent version is by Reps. Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus (HB 1799). Belmonte said that this bill is still at the committee level and will not be taken up soon, with congressmen busy preparing for next year’s elections.

Why do we need a divorce bill?

Because under existing laws, marriages may only be “annulled” or rendered void at the start. The process is long, tedious, and expensive (costing P200,000 or more), making it available only to the moneyed who can afford to hire lawyers and obtain the psychological report that affirms the psychological incapacity of one or both of the parties involved.

This is unfair to most Filipinos who do not have the means for this legal maneuver, and instead resort to separating from their spouses and living with other partners, often resulting in legal entanglements involving conjugal property, benefits, and inheritance – the fodder of telenovelas.

A divorce would recognize that the marriage did exist but should no longer continue for a number of reasons, including domestic violence, infidelity, abandonment, non-support, and so on.

The chief opponent to such a bill would be the Roman Catholic clergy. Having received a jarring setback in their campaign against the RH bill, proposing a divorce bill would quite likely further enrage them. [Postcript 20 Dec 2012: And it has - read here.]

But if Muslim Filipinos can have divorce, why can’t other Filipinos? Just because the Catholics don’t want to have divorces doesn’t mean they should stop others, especially non-Catholics, from having them.

Why should a religious group be allowed to dictate what other people should or shouldn’t do according to the tenets of their religion? Is that fair or just to others who don’t subscribe to their faith?

A person’s religion is often arbitrary, dictated by birth; the law then should be a support system that can care for all members of society regardless of the constructed and sometimes illogical regulations of whatever their religion may be. Laws are for the good of many, not the one (or the one group).

Let’s face it, our (predominantly Catholic) society is a hypocritical one. It bars divorce but to get around this, cultural norms developed where it is considered acceptable for men to have mistresses and illegitimate children while their wives have to suffer it for the sake of the family (unless they have their own intimate affairs), and legal go-arounds such as annulment have been devised that benefit the wealthy few, not everyone.

As adults with functioning brains we are all aware that some things don’t last forever, that people must move on from situations that don’t work anymore, that it is often better to cut and cut cleanly that to slog on in an unhappy marriage marred by misery and desperation.

We need a law that gives us a chance to move on and start over, and it is only abysmal stupidity and selfishness that will deny this.

And this is the best time to work for the divorce bill, right after the RH bill’s passage. The discourse on human rights in general and women’s rights in particular must continue and the momentum for struggle be sustained, because things need to change for the better and as soon as possible, because too many people have been suffering for far too long and delay is a disservice to the people.

Let’s end the hypocrisy. The divorce bill should be next. *** 

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