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‘Healthy debates’ roll out divorce

Elmer N. Manuel

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With previous surveys showing more Filipinos in favor of disunion, Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday admitted to expecting a “lengthy but healthy debates” on the passage of the Divorce Bill.

But Sotto also expects opposition from no less than President Rodrigo Duterte and the Catholic church.

“The Senate will surely talk about that. That will be one of our healthy debates, aside from the death penalty,” Sotto said. “With proper safeguards, let’s see if it can be explained to the majority of us why this is better than the present laws on annulment.”

The Senate President also revealed that his wife, actress Helen Gamboa, is “70-30 in favor” of divorce, which is also backed by “one or two” of their children despite the fact that he earlier said that he does not favor the measure.

The Philippines is one of only two states in the world — aside from the Vatican — that outlaws divorce, which aside from the moral and societal implications, also entails a “better” option for the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens as the process of annulment often amounts to luxury to obtain.

Last year, the Divorce Bill has found a new lease on life as former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez pushed for the passage of the bill which he and some activists believe could transform the lives of impoverished women trapped in toxic marriages.

The House of Representatives passed the measure on third and final reading, but it did not get the same support from the Senate.

Earlier this month, Sen. Risa Hontiveros refiled a bill seeking absolute divorce in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Sotto said that aside from Hontiveros, Sen. Pia Cayetano also backs divorce and expects them to really work for its passage.

He explained that in civil cases of annulment, a judge declares a marriage invalid due to “psychological incapacity” and applicants must undergo a mental examination, testify in court and sometimes even claim they or their spouse entered the union while afflicted with a disorder such as narcissism.

The process can take anywhere from one to 10 years to complete through the slow and overburdened court system and cost at least P250,000.

The proposed divorce law provides that the state shall ensure inexpensive and affordable court proceedings in securing an absolute divorce decree. It also seeks to grant absolute divorce for legal separation and annulment of marriage under the Family Code of the Philippines, separation in fact for at least five years, legal separation by judicial decree for at least two years, psychological incapacity, gender reassignment surgery, irreconcilable differences and joint petition of spouses.

The bill would also prioritize overseas Filipino workers with respect to court hearings while mandating summary proceedings for certain grounds of absolute divorce to facilitate and eliminate costly and cumbersome court process.

It will also provide for a mandatory six-month cooling off period for petitioner spouses, during which there will be no action on a petition six months after one is filed.

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