Women candidates: Make psych tests for annulment cheaper

MANILA, Philippines – When love dies between a couple, they should be allowed to end the marriage without their pockets having to suffer for it.

This was the sentiment of several female candidates in the 2016 elections who were invited to a forum held at the Dusit Thani Manila hotel in Makati City on Wednesday, November 25. 

Avoiding a lengthy debate when asked where they stand on the issue of divorce, Liberal Party (LP) vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo, Senate bets Risa Hontiveros, Lorna Kapunan, Princess Jacel Kiram, and Susan “Toots” Ople, and Iloilo 4th District Representative candidate Mitch Monfort-Bautista said the country’s existing grounds for annulment should be revisited instead.

Lawyers Robredo and Kapunan said that Article 36 of the Family Code is one existing remedy in the country that will get Filipinas out of abusive marriages. 

The provision allows annulment or when the marriage is declared void from the start and the couple may remarry on the grounds of “psychological incapacity.”

Divorce, meanwhile, is the legal dissolution of marriage focused on what happened during the marriage, which may include abandonment, violence, and non-performance of marital obligations. Divorce remains banned in the country, along with Vatican City. (READ: Divorce: Yes, we need to talk about it)

Camarines Sur 3rd District Representative Robredo said her concern with Article 36 is that the requirement for the couple to undergo psychological tests is “not accessible to the more vulnerable women of our society." 

She shared that in Naga, a psychological test costs around P100,000.

So ‘yung binubugbog nang binugbog ng asawa who wants out of the marriage already, titiisin na lang na kasal pa rin siya kasi wala naman siyang P100,000. Kahit libre pa 'yung abogado niya, wala siyang pambayad ng psychological test.” 

(So the battered wife who wants out of the marriage already will endure her husband’s beating because she doesn’t have P100,000. Even if her lawyer is pro-bono, she doesn’t have the money to pay for her psychological test.)

Kapunan, who is running for the Senate under the Poe-Escudero ticket, shared the same sentiments.

Tanggalin na lang natin 'yung napakahirap na procedural requirement (Let’s remove the difficult procedural requirement): you need a lawyer, you need a psychologist. It is very expensive,” she said. 

‘Expensive, oppressive’ requirement

THE PANELISTS. (From left to right): Mitch Bautista, Princess Kiram, and Toots Ople with broadcaster and forum moderator Ces Drilon on November 25.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

This is a suggestion that Ople agreed to, having annulled her own marriage in 1999. 

She recalled during the forum how difficult it was to pay for her and her then-husband’s psychological tests, and how tedious it was to have her legal documents reverted to her maiden name.  

“Now looking back, it’s so expensive, it’s so oppressive. So definitely, there has to be some reform in that aspect,” said Ople, a guest candidate under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and the Poe-Escudero tandem.

“When I had my marriage annulled, I felt liberated. It’s like reclaiming my sanity and I would want that for other women as well,” she added. 

For her part, UNA senatorial candidate Kiram said Muslim women are luckier in the Philippines because the Sharia law allows divorce. 

“In Islam, it’s accepted. It’s one way of protecting women mostly, because if the couple [already find it difficult to stay together for various legally acceptable reasons], then there’s no reason at all for the couple to stay together,” she said. 

If it walks like a duck… 

THE PANELISTS. (From left to right) Lorna Kapunan, Risa Hontiveros, and Leni Robredo on November 25.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

During the forum, Kapunan even sugested that Article 36, often referred to as the declaration of nullity of marriage, be called as divorce instead. 

"There is conventional wisdom in the saying, ‘If it talks like a duck, walks like a duck, smells like a duck, fucks like a duck, it is a duck,'" said Kapunan.  

“You can get married again? Same as divorce. You can assume your single name? Same as divorce. The children remain legitimate? Same as divorce. Property relationship is abolished or divided? Same as divorce,” she added.

LP Senate bet Hontiveros had a more nuanced answer, however, calling for the start of public conversation on divorce.

“There are several starting points. Immediately, child support is one. How many separated, abandoned women whose husbands are living [and] who just disappeared into thin air and [the women] receive nothing in child support? Two, if we have a proper contracting of marriage, should there not also be a proper dissolution of marriage?” Hontiveros said.

Bautista added the issue of divorce involves fostering a harmonious environment within the family first. 

“I think what we should do is really educate people on how to build happy relationships, because I don’t think that this country is ready for divorce yet,” she said. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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