MANILA, Philippines – Tatay, nanay, ate, kuya, bunso.
In schools and in law, in a largely conservative society such as the Philippines, the concept of the family has been confined to this structure.
The Family Code of the Philippines recognizes a family constituted through the union of a man and a woman. It classifies family relations as those between a husband and a wife, between parents and their children, and among full or half-blood siblings. In classrooms, students are taught that a family can only either be nuclear or extended.
The reality, however, is that “the Filipino family is in transition,” said University of the Philippines Population Institute Professor Grace Cruz in a paper presented in an Asian Institute of Management conference in 2014.
Cruz said family nowadays can be formed in various ways other than a heterosexual union. These include single parenthood, live-in arrangements, LGBTQ relationships, and blended families.
Since family is considered as the “foundation of the nation” and the basic unit of society, it is the state’s responsibility to protect its welfare. But how does the government in the Philippines do that for families outside the traditional setup?
The rights of the members of a conventional family, such as conjugal ownership of properties, are specified in the Family Code. Other laws and government institutions also provide benefits for family members.
Each married individual can file for a personal tax exemption of P50,000. The head of the family can also file for an additional P25,000 tax exemption per child for a maximum of 4 children. A family of 6 can enjoy up to P200,000 worth of tax exemptions.
RA 7322 gives male workers 7 days of paid paternity leave. SB 1305 proposes to extend it up to 30 days.
PhilHealth members' legal spouse and unmarried children below 21 years old can enjoy separate health coverage of up to 45 days in a year. The 45-day coverage is distributed to each availing dependent.
In the event of an accident or death, legal dependents are automatic beneficiaries of the Social Security System’s death and retirement benefits.
Cruz’s paper said that some 15% of the 100 million Filipino population are solo parents – close to the 20 million estimate given by the Federation of Solo Parents. (READ: PH laws that are unfair to women)
The Solo Parents’ Welfare Act or RA 8972 defines a single parent as an individual who:
The benefits under RA 8972 are generic: livelihood and counseling services, flexible working hours, and additional leave credits at work. Concerned agencies are also required by law to give single parents opportunities for low-cost housing, medical assistance, and scholarships for their kids.
There are 4 bills in the Senate and 10 in the House of Representatives proposing for more detailed benefits.
Blended families are formed when a parent remarries, and the new spouse has his or her own children from another marriage or relationship. The issues that arise from this is the psychological adaptation of the children and, at times, cases of sexual abuse.
A review released by Unicef in October 2016 said that a blended family system and presence of step-parents are risk factors for sexual violence, as cited by several studies.
Another Unicef study, done with the Council for the Welfare of Children, said that 98% of physical and psychological violence children suffer from happens at home. Around 13% of the study respondents aged 13 to 18 years old were sexually abused inside the house.
While the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children law seeks to protect them, the study said underreporting is still a major issue. Only 1% of child abuse victims report to authorities.
The 2015 Philippine Census released in June 2017 shows that 9.1% of Filipinos are living in cohabiting arrangements. UP Family Life and Child Development assistant professor Excelsa Tongson said that this has been a practical option for couples.
“Church wedding is very expensive, so for practical reasons they either cohabit or opt for a civil wedding…. The second reason for cohabiting is the absence of divorce in the Philippines. Couples just split up and when they find somebody else to love, what happens is they cohabit,” Tongson explained in an interview.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by scholars from the University of Southampton said that “the limited availability of family planning” is also a driver for the rise of the live-in phenomena in the Philippines.
Families in this setup are also entitled to social benefits. Unmarried mothers can avail themselves of the 60-day maternity leave. The head of the family can avail of a personal income tax exemption worth P25,000 per dependent, similar to the amount granted to married couples with children.
But Tongson noted that common-law couples would still encounter difficulties in having shared properties and other rights that legal spouses enjoy under the Family Code.
Families headed by same-sex couples are subject to the toughest battle for legal recognition in the Philippine society.
The House of Representatives recently passed on final reading the SOGIE Equality bill, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. While this is a milestone in the LGBTQ fight, the measure does not include a provision on homosexual unions.
Because the state does not recognize them, these couples cannot claim conjugal ownership of jointly purchased properties. They also find it difficult to have children.
“If they want to have children whether by adoption or by in vitro [fertilization]…they have problems in terms of the legitimacy of having children,” said Tongson in Filipino.
“They can choose to adopt legally, but they will have to go through the DSWD. But it will be a long process. And there are also legal issues in recognizing them as parents on the birth certificate,” she added.
Inclusive family code
The Family Code of the Philippines is an executive order signed by the President Corazon Aquino in 1987.
It was amended in 1998 to nullify the prescriptive period “for action and defenses grounded on psychological incapacity” in relation to marriage dissolution. In 2013, it was further revised to allow a spouse to engage in a business transaction without the permission of his/her partner.
The 17th Congress also passed a measure that gives equal decision-making powers to men and women in family-related matters.
For Tongson, the Family Code is not yet “outdated,” but there is a need to make it more sensitive to the needs of the dynamic social context.
“We need to revisit the Family Code in order for it to be more inclusive, in order for it to address the needs of those [in the outskirts], especially the LGBTQ. They also have the right to be happy if they want to,” she said.
“I think we should always be more inclusive because we are talking about well-being here. We don't realize the psychological and emotional effects we are bringing to this people…. It’s more of promoting a happy family, a family that is more inclusive, a family that is more respectful of the rights of women, children, and men,” she added. – Rappler.com