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In a predominantly Catholic country where divorce is not an option and annulments are harder to get than an emergency root canal at midnight, marriage is serious business. So serious that even husbands and wives who clearly shouldn’t be together are told to grin and bear it for the sake of their children, their neighbors, and even their pets. It’s 2010, but when it comes to matters of the heart, most Pinoys still seem to be stuck in the 1950s. Love actually Then again, most couples just stay together on paper because it costs too much to break up legally. Love (or the lack thereof) ceases to become a factor. It’s more like the dread of red tape and the lack of funds that helps them stick to their “till death do us part" vow—even if they want to kill each other. Still, the proposal of the women’s party list group 1-Ako Babaeng Astig Aasenso (1-ABAA) to place expiration dates on marriage contracts raised a ruckus. The controversial proposition was brought to light at the Daungan ng Balita news forum held at the Danarra Hotel in Quezon City last Thursday, January 7, 2010. The group’s main advocacy is “to help women become economically empowered by helping them become entrepreneurs giving them better employment, providing sources of livelihood, access to capital, and other ways to make women financially independent." However, among the issues they discussed at the forum, it was the subject of the marriage contract expiration that grabbed the most attention. In particular, 1-ABAA, which represents separated and abandoned women, proposed the enactment of a law that would mandate a 10-year limit on the validity of a marriage contract. Its purpose is “to spare incompatible couples the expense of lengthy legal proceedings before their marriages are annulled." Rules of engagement When you think about it, what the group wants isn’t really that outrageous. After all, the marriage license, which the couple obtains before they can get married, has a “built-in" expiration date. Article 20 of the Family Code of the Philippines stipulates that a marriage license is only valid “for a period of one hundred twenty days from the date of issue" and is deemed automatically canceled if the contracting parties have not made use of it by the end of the mandated period. So it’s really not a stretch to consider incorporating the same sort of scheme. As 1-ABAA president Margie Tajon put it, “[A marriage contract] should be just like a passport or driver’s license. If we are not interested to renew it, then it expires." This, of course, seems like a pragmatic solution to toxic unions. These days, as Tajon pointed out, “Those who can’t afford an annulment just suffer forever." Bottom line: 1-ABAA wants to amend the Family Code so that marriage will no longer be treated as a special contract. To date, the marriage contract is defined by the Family Code as "a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life." When it comes to the legal definition of marriage in the Philippines, you have to pay attention to two crucial words: "special" and "permanent." It is "special" because, unlike other types of contracts, the parties involved cannot stipulate whatever pleases them. The word "permanent" is self-explanatory. As such, a Pinoy marriage is pretty much built to last—at least in legal terms.
Good buzz Initial reactions to 1-ABAA’s proposal have been “one hundred percent positive." “’Yung mga hindi members [ng party-list), gusto maging members. This is the subject they’ve always wanted to voice out," disclosed Tajon. That said, it should be emphasized that the group’s members and supporters aren’t limited to abandoned and separated women. They include men and many happily married women. In fact, 1-ABAA’s secretary-general and legal counsel Eloisa Del Prado Bayani is a happily married lawyer who handles annulment cases. According to Tajon, Bayani supports the proposal even if it means there would be fewer clients for her if the law is amended. It’s because, Tajon explained, Bayani knows how much trouble it takes to obtain an annulment. Tajon went on to say that their sought-after amendment to the Family Code would also benefit couples who still want to stay together. Perhaps, Tajon is thinking that a married man or woman would make more of an effort to keep their marriage strong if they want their spouse to renew the contract. If you put it that way, then the 1-ABAA proposal seems to be a brilliant idea to prevent couples from taking each other for granted. Indeed, they have not yet met opposition. Not that there won't be any. Divine intervention It goes without saying that the Catholic Church would be at the forefront of parties opposing the 1-ABAA proposal. "Bago namin napag-isipan yan, alam na naming na Church ang number one [na mag-po-protesta]," stated Tajon. Though the Philippine Constitution mandates the separation of Church and State, the Church’s pronouncements still hold sway over many Filipinos. The 1-ABAA proposal, by the way, would not affect Muslim marriages, since they’re already allowed to divorce and governed by the stipulations of the Islamic religion. Honeymoon period With the positive reception of its proposal, the 1-ABAA appears to be enjoying the honeymoon phase at the moment. But honeymoons, of course, inevitably end. Asked about the chances of the 1-ABAA proposal, debate teacher and communications scholar Allan Roño told GMANews.TV: “This has been a topic of debate for many years now. It will take a major revision in the Family Code…and there has to be some sort of protection clause for the kids." Roño has raised a very good point. While the proposal may be a boon for troubled marriages, it doesn’t factor in the children. Aside from, perhaps, not having to put up with their mothers and fathers spats, it remains to be seen whether the kids from the said unions will stand to gain anything from the dissolution of their parents’ conjugal bond. For now, the 1-ABAA proposal, much like one for marriage, still needs some concrete answers before it can move forward. Because breakups, like emergency root canals, are always painful and complicated any which way you see it. -FVI, GMANews.TV
“As long as it doesn’t become another crazy process with unjustified fees, this may be a good thing." -Ces Mendoza, engaged “Having to renew your marriage contract every ten years seems fine. But what if you’re already old? It’d be too much of a hassle then. Hindi ba parang mawawala yung pagiging ‘big thing’ ng pagpapakasal pag ganun kadali na p’wedeng pabayaan na lang? Parang hindi magandang mag-expire yung kasal dahil hindi mo na talaga maaasikaso [ang renewal ng contract] kung malapit nang mamatay." -Daniel Barretto, who wants to be a family man someday “It’s not a bad idea. [But I think] it’s enough that there’s already an existing procedure for marriages that fail. Marriage is really a big risk." -Kevin Arriola, engaged to be married in 2012 “I think [1-ABAA’s] objective is good but I doubt if [the law could be changed that easily]. It would cause a lot of chaos. I’m still old-fashioned and naniniwala ako that marriage is a sacred lifelong commitment. It’s not just a trial and error process." -Tina Zuñiga, Arriola’s fiancée “The idealist in me says that such a provision would be counter-productive. Why would people try harder to make things work if they have such an easy ‘out’? The practical side of me says it makes a lot of sense. However, rather than making it easy to dissolve a union, why not find ways to make marriages work properly? And have they made provisions for the children of such dissolved unions? A marriage contract, if it were only based on money or ‘business' should be able to expire. But a marriage should be more than that. Its currency is in people’s lives and the lives of all those around them. Such relationships do not expire. They are meant to be nurtured, not treated as commodities." -Cecille Jabier, married for 21 years For more opinions, check the “The Marriage Contract to Have an Expiration?" discussion thread at Istorya.net and a a similar thread at the Where Women Click! site.
Men and women weigh in on 1-ABAA's proposal