Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will not touch the divorce question with a 10-foot pole.
Divorce is not just low on the Aquino administration radar, it is not on its radar screen at all, Palace officials have stressed repeatedly.
Apparently wanting to avoid a potential collision course with the Catholic Church, Malacanang on Saturday dismissed proposals to introduce divorce legislation in the country.
"Divorce is not on the radar of the administration," deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told a radio interview when asked what the President's position was on the two bills that have been filed in the House of Representatives seeking to either stop or allow divorce legislation.
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Valte was categorical in saying that divorce legislation was not a priority of Aquino, who is a bachelor at 52.
Neither Aquino nor any Cabinet secretary was willing to discuss this in the Cabinet, she emphasised.
Soon after the House passed the reproductive health (RH) bill on third reading last month, to the great consternation of Church leaders, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte announced that divorce would be next on the House's agenda.
Right on cue, House members started the spade work, filing divorce-related bills, although seemingly at cross purposes.
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One of the House bills wants "any future enactment of any bill related to divorce" to be considered illegal, while the other is for amending the Family Code to accommodate a divorce provision.
The "Anti-Divorce and Unlawful Dissolution of Marriage" bill, authored by Marikina Rep. Marcelino Teodoro, seeks a "guarantee that no legislation encouraging or facilitating the dissolution of marriage and recognizing divorce shall be passed."
At the opposite pole is the bill coauthored by party-list Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus (Gabriela), which seeks to amend the Family Code to introduce a divorce provision.
The Teodoro bill would ensure that absolute divorce remains unacceptable in the Philippines where, the bill's author reasons, spouses in troubled marriages can always avail of legal separation.
In the explanatory note to his bill, Teodoro said the attempts to introduce a divorce law in the country "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."
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Ilagan and De Jesus argued in favour of divorce to give relief to people in so "many failed and unhappy marriages" who have no access to the courts and end up separating "without the benefit of legal processes."
In this regard, party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares (Bayan Muna) has filed a bill which neither advocates for nor condemns divorce but seeks to make annulment more accessible to and less costly for the poor.
Valte reiterated that neither of the divorce bills was being talked about in the Cabinet, "so it's not really on the radar".
Mindful of Church leaders' reaction after Aquino signed the RH bill into law on December 21, Malacanang has stressed that the Aquino administration was not about to provoke Church leaders further by supporting divorce legislation.
"That's not on the radar, that's not being discussed [in the Palace]," said Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, following Belmonte's announcement that divorce would figure next on the House agenda.
"I think this is being discussed mostly by civil society groups and advocates, but we've always said that this was not something that we were thinking about at this point. And I can say that it's really not something that the administration is contemplating" for the remainder of Mr Aquino's term, Carandang said.
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