PGTW: Can a TV Show Change the Law?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 June 2014, Thursday

Can a TV Show Change the Law?

Why was ABS-CBN’s “The Legal Wife” such a hit?

The popular teleserye ran from 27 January to 13 June this year, and had fans riveted to their screens each time it aired. During its run, it earned 21.1 percent of national viewership and the spot of 5th most-watched primetime program.

Praised as realistic and reflective, the show tackles adultery and how people cope with its effects, emotionally and in other ways.

One thing “The Legal Wife” showed, perhaps indirectly, is how the Philippine legal system, out of step with the zeitgeist, has failed by keeping couples trapped in irreparably shattered marriages.

One of the topics that the show brought to the fore of public consciousness was of legal annulments. An annulment declares a valid marriage void, for a handful of approved grounds, and also if it is proven that there is some pre-existing condition or defect on the part of one or both spouses – “psychological capacity” is the catch-all term that covers this.

However, for some viewers, the show did not give an accurate portrayal of the process. A gaming industry expert, who’s obtained an annulment, says the show “actually fails to show how the process works. They make it look like divorce.”

A young law student added, “They don’t show how hella expensive filing an annulment is…The female protagonist’s character is a company executive and a daughter of some rich old dude. She could afford to file an action for annulment.”

For couples wanting to remarry or reclaim their liberty in the eyes of the law, this is the only method that they have recourse to at the moment, because the Philippines is the only country in the world without a divorce law.

Divorce, on the other hand, allows a couple to sever their ties without necessarily having to prove one or the other spouse cuckoo.

Under present circumstances, the law on annulments privileges those who can afford the huge expense  – an annulment costs about two to three hundred thousand pesos, sometimes more.

It took me eight years to save up enough for an annulment. A writer friend would not have been able to get hers if she had not obtained the pro bono services of a lawyer friend.

Those who cannot afford, or who for other reasons are unable to file for an annulment, live with their new beloved without the benefit of “that piece of paper.” It works for many. But why should they not also be able to enjoy the advantages that an annulment – or divorce – confers?

The Roman Catholic Church, in its continuing bid to impose its agenda on the rest of the country (whether subscribing to their brand of religion or not), has consistently opposed a divorce bill. Divorce would be faster and cheaper, and give a greater number of citizens access to the legal relief that they should be able to avail of.

Among the relevant bills pending in Congress are Sen. Loren Legarda’s SB 2225, filed last May, that grants an annulment to couples who have been separated for at least five years. Gabriela Partylist will be refiling their divorce bill again after their first attempt did not prosper. Rep. Neri Colmenares’s HB 1590, filed in 2013, places spousal violence, infidelity, and abandonment under the umbrella of “psychological incapacity.”

“The Legal Wife” struck a deep chord because it bared the truth of how people negotiate their lives around laws and social conventions. Because our country does not allow divorce and makes annulment difficult and expensive, the system is gamed by those with money and power, and ignored by those without.

The teleserye also shows another effect of the gap between rich and poor – only those with the means can afford to place their lives in order, while those who do not, will live as best they can.

It’s about time the law on this matter becomes more responsive to all, both rich and poor. ***

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