divorce in the Philippines

Delaying forces? House panel approves divorce bill, again

Michelle Abad

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Delaying forces? House panel approves divorce bill, again
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman says the divorce bill being sent back to the committee level is 'obviously' meant to delay the bill's passage

The bill seeking to allow divorce in the country, which is and has been controversial in the Philippines for decades, was approved in the House population and family relations in minutes on Tuesday, February 6. But it wasn’t because there was no opposition – but quite the opposite, a congressman thinks.

After the House panel originally submitted the committee report in September 2023, the rules committee recommitted it, or sent it back, to the population committee in December.

Approving with no amendments, the committee adjourned the hearing just 17 minutes after it began on Tuesday. It is now back with the committee on rules.

“Obviously, the recommitment was made to further delay, or even derail, the enactment of this bill,” said Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman.

Lagman said that the recommitment was done “without the courtesy” of beforehand consulting with and informing him as principal author, and population committee chair Isabela 3rd District Representative Ian Paul Dy.

He added that they were “belatedly informed” that the recommitment intended for the population committee to refer the bill to the appropriations committee, as it did not have “appropriations language.”

In so many words, Lagman asked, what?

In “vehemently” objecting to the recommitment, Lagman said that there is no rule in the House that requires bills with no appropriations language to be referred to the committee. He pointed to the examples of the law banning child marriage, which did not have appropriations language when it was signed into law, as well as the anti-teenage pregnancy bill, which was approved on third reading in the House without appropriations language.

Appropriations can come later on, such as during the plenary, during Senate debates, and in the annual General Appropriations Act, he said, lamenting the alleged delay of the bill in the lower chamber.

“Millions of Filipino women have been waiting for the enactment of this bill since this is a pro-woman legislation considering that wives are the victims of toxic and destroyed marriages due to the cruelty, violence, or abandonment by their husbands,” he said.

Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas said it is “not uncommon” for progressive legislation to face opposition from groups with different views. Conservative groups have been blocking the divorce bill since it was first filed by Gabriela Women’s Party in the 13th Congress, she said.

“As lawmakers, our priority is to navigate these challenges and ensure that women, who have long awaited the passage of such legislation, will be heard,” she said in a message to Rappler on Wednesday, February 7.

The use of administrative hurdles to block progressive bills is not unheard of. For instance, the bill seeking to penalize discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE), after passing the committee level, was reverted to the panel after Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said various religious groups wanted more chances to participate in discussions.

Villanueva belongs to the religious group Jesus is Lord Movement, which was founded by his father Eddie Villanueva, a chief critic of the SOGIE bill.

The older Villanueva is a member of the House, representing the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party.

Hopeful still

A survey conducted by Octa Research from September 30 to October 4, 2023, found that just over half of Filipinos were not in favor of passing a law that would legalize divorce.

Despite this, Cici Leueberger-Jueco, convenor of lobbying group Divorce for the Philippines Now, remains hopeful about the passage of the divorce bill in the 19th Congress.

Jueco said the group is 100,000 members-strong, a majority of whom are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“We want our marriages to be legally invalidated. The majority of us don’t necessarily want to get married again. We just want to settle down with our children, who no longer have to witness fights between their parents, for them to be happier. We would be good examples to our children in not staying in a toxic marriage,” she told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino following the hearing on Tuesday.

Jueco said the three most common marriage problems Filipinos in their group face are adultery, abuse, and abandonment.

The group thinks the best chance for the divorce bill is now. After all, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has expressed support for divorce, although saying it shouldn’t be made “easy.”

Brosas remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of the divorce bill, saying there is much work to be done to advance it further. She said continued lobbying efforts and advocacy will be essential to garnering support from lawmakers and stakeholders.

“We recognize that challenges lie ahead. But we are committed to seeing this important legislation through and ensuring that the voices of those who have long advocated for divorce rights are heard. By remaining steadfast in our efforts and working collaboratively, we believe that we can overcome these challenges and make meaningful strides towards enacting legislation that promotes fairness, equality, and justice for all,” said Brosas.

The Philippines remains the only country in the world without divorce, save for the Vatican, whose residents are mostly priests and nuns. – Rappler.com

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  1. ET

    Those members of the House of Representatives who delayed the passage of the bill seeking to allow divorce in the country more likely have these characteristics. First, they have happy family lives without financial and other problems. Second, their supporters have the same happy family lives as they have. Third, there may be those who have families that are less happy than those two groups have, but tradition and religion make them indifferent to their situation. Fourth, those politicians must secure the loyalty of their constituents who belong to those three groups above. They are lucky yet so selfish to think only of themselves.

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.