Philippine Lawmakers Pass Bill Legalizing Divorce

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Philippine Lawmakers Pass Bill Legalizing Divorce

The Absolute Divorce Bill is the product of years of work on the part of representatives seeking to amend the country’s notoriously restrictive divorce law.

Philippine Lawmakers Pass Bill Legalizing Divorce
Credit: Depositphotos

The Philippine House of Representatives yesterday approved a bill that legalizes divorce in a limited range of circumstances, six years after a similar law stalled in the Senate.

The Absolute Divorce Bill, which lays out a number of instances in which divorce is permissible – a full list is here – narrowly passed its third reading by a slim margin of 126 to 109 votes, with 20 abstentions, The Inquirer reported.

The Philippines is the only place outside the Vatican where divorce is outlawed, largely due to the influence of the Catholic Church. As a result, pro-divorce activists say, marriages are extremely hard to escape, even in cases of spousal abuse.

People wanting to end their marriage are forced into a slow and costly legal process, which involves requesting a court for an annulment or a declaration that the nuptials were never valid to begin with. This can be tricky to prove, and the government can appeal any decision. According to the AFP news agency, this has spawned a genre of scams promising quick and easy access to the necessary court ruling.

The Absolute Divorce Bill approved by the House is still relatively conservative. Under the law, there are “limited and reasonable grounds for divorce and a petition will have to undergo judicial scrutiny in order to prevent abuse and collusion of the parties, which is penalized,” said Rep. Edcel Lagman, the principal author of the draft bill that formed the basis of the legislation, according to the Philippine Star. He added that the law  “does not recognize no-fault, quickie, drive-thru, email, or notarial” divorces.

The House passage does not guarantee the passage of the bill; in 2018, a similar bill passed the House only to die in the Senate. A primary reason for the restrictive state of the Philippines’ divorce laws is the pervasive influence of the Church, which has opposed any liberalization and has also opposed the legalization of abortion and contraceptives. Around 78.8 percent of the Philippines’ population identify as Catholic, according to the country’s latest census, conducted in 2020.

Recent years have seen liberal lawmakers begin to make inroads against this conservatism. In 2012, they passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, also known as the RH Law, which provided universal access to contraception and family planning advice, though the law was staunchly resisted by conservative members of Congress, who have thrown various obstacles in the way of its implementation.

The Philippines also still has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, which do not contain any clear exceptions, though the Philippine Commission on Human Rights last year expressed its support for the decriminalization of abortion.

The attitudes of the most conservative Catholics do seem to be out of step with the changing public attitudes to divorce. In 2005, 43 percent of Filipinos supported legalizing divorce “for irreconcilably separated couples,” according to surveys conducted by the local pollster Social Weather Stations, compared to 45 percent who disagreed. By 2017, 53 percent said they were in favor of legalizing divorce, with only 32 percent opposed.

“Not everyone is lucky enough to be in a marriage that’s ideal and will surely last a lifetime,” one would-be divorcée told Business World. “While everyone dreams of marrying their Prince Charming, there are people like me who thought they had met their knight in shining armor only to find out he was actually a devil in disguise.”