Divorce bill battle starts in Philippines

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Lawmakers appear to be on a collision course over efforts to introduce a divorce law in the Philippines, with two completely opposite bills pending in the House of Representatives.

Marikina Representative Marcelino Teodoro has filed an "Anti-Divorce and Unlawful Dissolution of Marriage Act" seeking a "guarantee that no legislation encouraging or facilitating the dissolution of marriage and recognising divorce shall be passed."

>> Related story: Divorce talk irks bishops

Another pending bill coauthored by Gabriela Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus seeks to amend the Family Code to introduce a divorce provision, a move floated and supported by no less than Speaker Feliciano Belmonte soon after the House passed the reproductive health bill on third reading.

The Teodoro proposal "ensures that absolute divorce remains unacceptable in the Philippine legal system, and maintains that legal separation can be availed of by spouses in (a) troubled marriage".

In the explanatory note to House Bill No. 2768, Teodoro acknowledged that "initiatives" and "legislative proposals" to introduce a divorce law in the country had a "worthy objective".

Value of marriage

But he said these still "undermine the value of marriage by encouraging couples to put an end to their relationship instead of allowing them to reconcile immediately or fix the same over time."

>> Also read: Anti-RH law groups not backing down

The bill imposes a penalty of imprisonment of up to six months, including a fine of up to 50,000 pesos (US$1,200), on a number of "prohibited acts".

They include the issuance of a "decree of legal separation without the court taking necessary steps toward the reconcilliation of spouses and without determining beforehand that reconcilliation is highly improbable".

Also prohibited is the "deliberate intent of any person and/or the prosecuting attorney assigned in a case to induce collusion between the parties, as well as encourage fabrication or suppression of evidence".

In their bill, Ilagan and De Jesus argued that there are "many failed, unhappy marriages across all Filipino classes".

5 grounds of divorce

"Many couples, especially from the marginalised sectors who have no access to the courts, simply end up separating without the benefit of legal processes," they said in the explanatory note.

>> In other news: China holds 'war games'

Their bill covers a total of five grounds for divorce, including "irreconcilable differences that have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage."

A separate bill by Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares does not advocate divorce, but seeks to make annulment proceedings more "accessible and less costly" for the poor.

His proposal recognises "spousal violence, infidelity and abandonment as presumptive psychological incapacity constituting ground for the annulment of marriage".

"The bill aims to address the inequality and inaccessibility that have resulted from the remedy granted by the Family Code to be free from a void marriage with a spouse who has committed abusive acts of violence or infidelity or abandonment (of) his or her family," he said in the explanatory note.

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