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House committee unanimously approves divorce bill

A substitute bill seeking to introduce absolute divorce in the Philippines is bound for plenary debates at the House of Representatives after the measure was approved at the committee level.

In a statement, Albay Representative Edcel Lagman announced that the Committee on Population and Family Relations unanimously approved the unnumbered substitute bill crafted by a Technical Working Group.

“Today is a momentous occasion for countless wives, who are battered and deserted, to regain their humanity, self-respect, and freedom from irredeemably failed marriages and utterly dysfunctional unions,” Lagman said.

According to the lawmaker, the bill seeks to reinstate absolute divorce as this was already practiced during pre-Spanish times, the American colonial period, and during the Japanese occupation.

Lagman also noted House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s favor of the enactment, saying that  Velasco had submitted the following amendments which are now included in the substitute bill:

  • provisions on court-assisted petitioners
  • community-based pre-nuptial and post-matrimonial programs
  • community-based women’s desks to provide assistance and support to victims of violence and abuse
  • an appropriation language for the bill

Grounds for divorce

According to Lagman, the grounds for legal separation, annulment of marriage, and nullification of marriage based on psychological incapacity under the Family Code were included as grounds for absolute divorce.

He said these were amended to cover causes arising after the solemnization of the marriage. 

The other grounds for divorce are the following:

  • separation in fact for at least five years at the time the petition for absolute divorce is filed
  • when one of the spouses undergoes a gender reassignment surgery or transitions from one sex to another
  • irreconcilable marital differences as defined in the bill
  • other forms of domestic or marital abuse which are also defined in the bill
  • valid foreign divorce secured by either the alien or Filipino spouse
  • a marriage nullified by a recognized religious tribunal

Lagman said absolute divorce would also void the marital union and allow the divorced spouses to remarry.

The lawmaker stressed that the Philippines is the only country across the globe that outlaws absolute divorce, aside from the Vatican.

“It is hard to believe that all the other countries collectively erred in instituting absolute divorce in varying degrees of liberality and limitations. An en masse blunder is beyond comprehension,” he said.

“An erroneous unanimity on such a crucial familial institution defies reason and experience. Obviously, the rest of the world cannot be mistaken on the universality of absolute divorce,” he added.

Other bills incorporated in the substitute bill are HB 838 by Representatives Arlene Brosas, France Castro, Sarah Jane Elago, Eufemia Cullamat, Carlos Zarate, and Ferdinand Gaite; and HB 2263 authored by Representative Pantaleon Alvarez. 

The counterpart measure of the divorce bill in the Senate remains pending at the committee of women, children, family relations, and gender equality.

The Senate panel had already conducted a hearing on the measure last September 2019. — with Hana Bordey/RSJ, GMA News