Sanctity of an empty shell

“Just as individuals have the freedom to enter into a marriage, they should also have the option to exit one that imprisons them in unhappiness and discontent.
Sanctity of an empty shell

The Philippines stands on its lonesome — okay with the Vatican, where Catholic ministers have celibacy vows to start with — as a bastion, a holdover if you may, against absolute divorce or the total dissolution of marriage outside of annulment. This aberration, if one can call it that, is deeply rooted in the country’s Catholic heritage brought to its shores by the Spaniards, who, ironically, can avail of divorce at present under their government’s no-fault system.

For centuries, Filipinos have abided by the Catholic dogma that marriage is a sacred vow or a lifelong commitment that transcends temporary hardships. Remember the vow, “till death do us part”? Under Spain’s divorce legislation, neither spouse needs to prove blame or wrongdoing to obtain a divorce, thereby eliminating the complexities and potential hostilities associated with acrimonious, fault-based divorces.

What Spain requires is a separation period before a divorce can be finalized, three months if both spouses agree to divorce, and two years if only one wants out of the marriage.

Back home, Filipinos trapped in failed marriages must have rejoiced, albeit prematurely, with the recent approval of House Bill 9349, or the Absolute Divorce Act, providing a legal pathway to dissolve marriages beyond repair, one that provides an alternative to the complex demands of annulment procedures.

Opponents of HB 9349 fear the bill would erode the Filipino family, while arguing that existing annulment procedures, while imperfect, provide a way out of loveless marriages or those marred by exceptional circumstances.

Annulment’s limitations cannot be ignored as the process is notoriously expensive and time-consuming, often hinging on proving psychological incapacity at the outset of the marriage. This creates a system accessible only to the privileged few, leaving countless Filipinos trapped in domestic strife.

HB 9349 seems to provide a more realistic path than annulment by first recognizing that marriages, like any human undertaking, can fail. By outlining legitimate grounds for divorce, such as irreconcilable differences and domestic abuse, the bill may, if passed into law, offer a dignified exit for couples who have exhausted all attempts at reconciliation.

Many divorce bills had been shredded in the Philippines’ legislative mills for decades, with opponents raising concerns about the impact of divorce on children. Still, while the emotional toll of a fractured family is undeniable, it’s crucial to also acknowledge the damage inflicted on those same children by their exposure to the prolonged conflict within a dysfunctional marriage.

Within the walls of hellish homes, children cannot be insulated from marital discord, thus a clean break between the warring spouses could provide kids a more stable environment for their emotional well-being. Whatever absolute divorce law is passed in the Philippines, it must incorporate provisions for child custody and support, ensuring that children do not emerge from broken marriages as damaged goods.

On that matter of divorce putting forth the specter of a weakened social fabric, it should be said that a society that prioritizes the sanctity of an empty shell over the well-being of people risks stagnation. Properly implemented, divorce could allow individuals room for personal growth. It could allow individuals to seek new partnerships built on healthier foundations, thereby strengthening instead of weakening the overall fabric of society.

Mind you, HB 9349 is just the latest in many attempts to legislate absolute divorce in the Philippines. During the American colonial period (1898-1946), Act 2710 briefly introduced absolute divorce. However, it was repealed after the Philippines gained independence from the Americans.

Presently, many countries have successfully implemented absolute divorce legislation with demonstrably positive outcomes. Singapore, for example, has witnessed a decrease in domestic violence cases after enacting a divorce law. Similarly, studies from South Korea point toward a decline in suicide rates, particularly among women trapped in abusive marriages.

Marriages built on outdated notions of duty and obligation often fail to provide the emotional and psychological support individuals need to thrive. Nonetheless, it would be disingenuous to dismiss the genuine concerns regarding the potential downsides of divorce.

Open and inclusive public discourse is crucial on this sensitive topic. Filipinos must engage in respectful dialogue, considering the perspectives of religious institutions, social welfare advocates, and individual citizens. A well-informed public can then hold lawmakers accountable for crafting legislation that reflects the best interests of society as a whole.

Ultimately, the core principle at stake is individual agency. Marriage is a contract, a solemn agreement between two consenting adults. Just as individuals have the freedom to enter into a marriage, they should also have the option to exit one that imprisons them in unhappiness and discontent.

Daily Tribune