Published in Manila Standard Today
By Elizabeth Angsioco
Vilma Santos, Nora Aunor, Maricel Soriano, Sharon Cuneta, Dina Bonnevie, Pops Fernandez, Aiko Melendez, Carmina Villaroel and Snooky Serna are big names in Philippine showbiz. They are also in the long list of personalities who separated from their first husbands through divorce or annulment.
Divorce is again a hot issue after the people of Malta, the only other country in the world (aside from ours) without a divorce law, decided in a referendum that they want one.
Here, each time lawmakers file bills legalizing divorce, loud opposition voices are immediately heard. Arguments against divorce are almost always based on religious dogma, much like those against the reproductive health bill, even if the two are quite different from each other.
By definition, divorce is a court decision dissolving a legal marriage and giving the concerned parties the right to remarry. Divorce are of two types: first, that which is based on grounds defined by law and which need to be proven; and second, “no fault” divorce where there is no need to prove that one party was abused by the other.
I favor re-legalizing divorce in the country. I am of the position that arguments against it do not hold water. Allow me to counter these.
1. Divorce is unnecessary. We already have legal separation and annulment.
The Family Code of the Philippines indeed provides for legal separation, declaration of nullity of marriage, and annulment. Conceptually, however, these are different from divorce.
The first gives the right to legally separate from one’s spouse in terms of abode and provides for property settlement WITHOUT dissolving the marriage. Thus, the marriage remains legal and both parties cannot remarry.
Declaration of nullity of marriage and annulment declare that the marriage contracted was invalid from, or can be declared void, from the start. Both are grounded on specific bases that MUST have existed before or at the time of the wedding ceremony.
The existence of these grounds is often difficult to prove and requires expertise, thus, the need for psychologists and psychiatrists. No wonder, annulment cases are usually long-drawn and quite expensive.
We already have laws for those who only want property settlement, and those with void and voidable marriages. Why not a law for valid but failed marriages?
2. Divorce is a foreign concept and not applicable to Filipino culture.
First, what really is Filipino?
Are democracy and Christianity or Catholicism Filipino? Definitely, they are not indigenous to the Philippines. Spain brought us Roman Catholicism. The Americans taught us democracy.
If origin is the basis for saying that certain ideas are not applicable to one’s culture, then the same standard should be used for these concepts.
Second, divorce is not new in the Philippines.
Even before Magellan “discovered” the Philippines, our ancestors had practices similar to divorce. Separation of “couples” and their right to enter another relationship was accepted as part of community life. Some of the known communities that practiced this were Palawan’s Tagbanwas; Nueva Vizcaya’s Gadang; Cordilleras’ Igorots; the Manobos, Bila-ans and Muslims of Visayas and Mindanao.
The Spaniards scrapped, and replaced these practices with “Siete Partidas,” or legal separation.
In 1917, the Americans removed Siete Partidas and institutionalized Act 2710, or the Divorce Law that had two grounds: adultery on the woman’s part and concubinage for men.
During the Japanese occupation, Act 2710 was replaced by EO No. 141, which, had ten grounds upon which one could divorce one’s spouse. After defeating the Japanese, the Americans removed EO No. 141 and Act 2710 was again put in place. Nevertheless, divorce remained legal until 1950 when the Civil Code of the Philippines re-instituted legal separation.
Third, divorce is still presently practiced in the Philippines.
Muslims practice divorce and the national government recognizes this as legal. Some indigenous cultural communities in the country still have practices similar to divorce.
Fourth, divorce is legal (nearly) worldwide, except in our country.
While Malta has yet to pass its actual divorce law, its Prime Minister has already said that he will vow to the will of the Maltese people. Thus, in the very near future, it will only be us, Filipinos, who will not have this option.
Spain, which brought us our religion, has divorce. Italy, where the Vatican is, has divorce. All other predominantly Catholic countries have divorce. What makes us so special?
Are we saying that what is good for the entire world is bad for us? Do we really have perfect marriages?
Why can’t we face the reality that there are marriages that fail and that people should have a legal option that will not declare their marriages void from the beginning?
Divorce is nothing new and cannot be considered as foreign to us, Filipinos. We should re-enact it.
3. Divorce will destroy the Filipino family.
First, the quality of family relationships is more important than its composition.
Indeed, the family should be protected. But what kind of families are we after? Is it simply about its composition? Doesn’t the quality of relationships count?
In my view, there must be love, understanding, trust and respect in families. If these are gone and hatred, abuse, violence and/or mistrust become the norm, do we insist that people stay together as a “family”? Is this what we want?
In a country where violence against women, specifically wife abuse, remains common, must we force women to stay in abusive relationships so as not to “destroy” their families? Truth be said, these families are already ruined and there is nothing more to destroy.
Our culture expects women to be submissive especially on family matters. It becomes the women’s responsibility to ensure that the family remains INTACT regardless of abuses or problems they have.
Women ordinarily fulfill this role and it takes a lot before they want out. I know too many cases when women only get out of marriages after many years of abuse and when such is already unbearable, at times, almost killing them.
Leaving an abusive relationship is more difficult when one is unprotected by law, and when the marriage cannot be invalidated.
Second, it is a fact that separations happen left and right.
It is common knowledge that our courts are clogged with annulment cases. This is because annulment is the only option open to the thousands of couples who want out of broken and/or failed marriages. In our communities, countless ordinary people separate from their spouses without bothering to go through legal processes.
Such separations are not invented by divorce since we do not have it.
Third, even during those years when divorce was legal in the Philippines, the family as an institution remained and until now, continues to be strong.
The foundation for taking the marriage vows is the love between two people. This remains whether divorce is legal or not. Because people continue to fall in love, there will be no shortage of those who will get married and raise a family.
I say that having divorce may make people more careful and responsible in their relationships because the possibility of their spouses wanting to get out of a failed and/or abusive relationship is real. When people nourish their marriage, the family as an institution is strengthened and divorce is a distant possibility.
Even if countless couples have separated and/or divorced, many still learn to love, eventually get married and raise families. The family as an institution will not be destroyed because of the legality of divorce.
I dare say that divorce may even strengthen and improve the quality of existing families. It may be one way of protecting the kind of families that can possibly contribute more to our society in general. More next week!