Divorce law unlikely? Senate only wants easier, cheaper annulment

MANILA, Philippines – While the House has passed the divorce bill, there is no counterpart measure in the Senate, as the chamber only seeks the expanded annulment of marriages.

Senator Loren Legarda filed Senate Bill 410 on July 18, 2016, which seeks to prescribe an additional ground for annulment. It has been pending in the committee level since August 2016,

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, filed Senate Bill 1745 on March 14, seeking the government recognition of Church-decreed annulment. There are no hearings yet.

Additional ground: Under Legarda’s bill, a marriage involving parties who have been separated in fact for at least 5 years may be annulled.

Both parties shall be required to present affidavits or certifications from parents, children of legal age, and other relatives attesting to the fact of the separation period “without prejudice to whatever documents the court may further require.”

If either or both parties cannot afford to hire lawyers, the bill mandates the court to “dispense” with the need for lawyers and keep the processes simple and fast to avoid protracted and expensive trials.

Church-annulment: Zubiri’s measure states that a Church’s annulment or dissolution of marriage “shall have the same effect as a decree of annulment or dissolution issued by a competent court.” The bill covers all religions.

In September 2015, Pope Francis released documents that would make the process of Church annulments more efficient.

“In a predominantly Catholic or Christian Philippines, marriage is also a religious act. Although it is a religious act, marriage solemnized in the church is recognized by the State. Corollarily, the State should also recognize the annulment of marriage granted by the church,” Zubiri said in his bill’s explanatory note.

What this means. With the House's passage of the divorce bill, the fate of the controversial measure is now at the hands of the Senate, whose leaders and members are deemed conservative.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, whose marriage was annulled this year, said if the divorce bill is similar to the law in the United States, there is a low chance it would be passed.

Pimentel, however, is open to studying the concept of "dissolution of marriages."

"Divorce as we know it in America, doubtful. But this new idea being introduced, 'dissolution of marriage,' should be studied. Speaker tells me there is a difference. Hence, we study if true," Pimentel said in a text message.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said that dissolution of marriage is not like divorce because the former seeks marriage to be dissolved easily after just one hearing. He also proposed that "unhappiness" be made a ground for it.

Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who is known for opposing liberal policies such as the Reproductive Health law, said the chance of the divorce bill is "slim."

"I am more inclined to support the expansion of the grounds for annulment," Sotto said.

Other senators, such as Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Joel Villanueva, Francis Escudero, and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV shared Sotto's sentiment. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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