Chiz has no heart for divorce

With the strong influence of the Catholic Church, divorce is illegal in the Philippines and the only way to dissolve a marriage is through annulment.
Francis “Chiz” Escudero
Senate President Francis “Chiz” EscuderoPhoto courtesy of Chiz Escudero (Facebook)

Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero on Sunday said he favors making the annulment of marriage more accessible and affordable for Filipinos, rather than legalizing absolute divorce.

Escudero issued the statement even as Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Saturday chided as “sore losers” those who continue to block the newly approved House

Bill 9349, or the Absolute Divorce Act.

The new Senate leader cited the need to weigh and balance the discussion on the proposal to provide another legal pathway to dissolve broken marriages outside of annulment in the predominantly Catholic country.

However, Escudero said he would let individual senators speak for themselves on how they view absolute divorce.

“My position on divorce is that it is a conscience, personal vote. There is no party, no majority, (and) no minority stand here,” he said. “I have no intention of speaking (as Senate president) for or against it.”

But Escudero laid bare where his heart lies, on a personal level, when it comes to absolute divorce.

“Me, personally, I’ve said it already that I want to make annulment more affordable and accessible, under our existing law,” Escudero said in Filipino in a radio interview.

Towards this goal, Escudero said the government could tap the Public Attorney’s Office to handle annulment cases for free or at minimal costs to litigants.

He said there’s no need for the Philippines to go with the flow of nearly all countries adopting divorce laws, “as one of only two countries without divorce.”

The Philippines and the Vatican have been acknowledged as the only two states in the world that do not have absolute divorce.

With the strong influence of the Catholic Church in its law, divorce is illegal in the Philippines and the only way to dissolve a marriage is through annulment.

Annulment declares a marriage null and void from the beginning, based on specific legal grounds such as psychological incapacity, fraud, or bigamy. Annulment has proven to be a lengthy and expensive process.

On the other hand, the Vatican City, as the seat of Catholicism, follows the Canon Law, which does not allow for divorce. Annulment is possible under certain circumstances, but the process is complex and requires approval from the Holy See’s highest court.

The Family Code of the Philippines, as amended, also provides legal separation as a course for estranged couples, but unlike annulment and absolute divorce (as defined in most countries), legal separation does not allow the separated parties to remarry.

On 22 May, the House of Representatives approved on the third and final reading HB 9349, with 131 affirmative votes, 109 negative votes, and 20 abstentions.

The bill stipulates the grounds for absolute divorce, which include psychological incapacity, irreconcilable differences, domestic or marital abuse, when one of the spouses undergoes sex reassignment surgery or transitions from one sex to another, and separation of the spouses for at least five years.

Under the bill, the grounds for legal separation under the Family Code of the Philippines can also be considered grounds for absolute divorce.

These grounds include physical violence or grossly abusive conduct directed against the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner; physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation; and an attempt of a respondent to corrupt or induce the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner, to engage in prostitution.

Final judgment

Other grounds include final judgment, sentencing the respondent to imprisonment of more than six years; drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, or chronic gambling; homosexuality of the respondent; contracting by the respondent of a subsequent bigamous marriage; marital infidelity or perversion or having a child with another person other than one’s spouse during the marriage; attempt by the respondent against the life of the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner; and abandonment of petitioner by respondent without justifiable cause for more than one year.

HB 9394 provides that a valid foreign divorce secured by either the foreigner or Filipino spouse has the effect of a divorce in the country without going through the judicial process.

A petition for absolute divorce shall be filed with the proper family court by the petitioner or joint petitioners within 10 years from the occurrence or discovery of the cause for divorce.

The proper family court shall exercise all efforts to reunite and reconcile the concerned spouses during the mandatory 60-day cooling-off period after the filing of the petition.

In the Senate, the committee on women, chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros, already approved a consolidated counterpart measure — Senate Bill 2443 — seeking to expand the grounds for the dissolution of marriage.

The committee report on the measure is yet to be released for plenary approval, with Senators Hontiveros, Raffy Tulfo, Robin Padilla, Pia Cayetano and Imee Marcos authoring the consolidated bill.

Apart from five authors, Senators JV Ejercito, Grace Poe, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, and then-Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda likewise signed the panel report.

Under SB 2443, absolute divorce is defined as” the legal termination of a marriage by a court in a legal proceeding.”

A petition or complaint for divorce must be filed by one or both spouses, which would have “the effect of returning both parties to the status of single for all legal intents and purposes, including the right to contract a subsequent marriage.”

SB 2443 states that “the state shall assure that the court proceedings for the grant of absolute divorce shall be affordable, expeditious, and inexpensive, particularly for indigent litigants.”

Daily Tribune