divorce in the Philippines

‘Moral victory’: Bohol bishop writes to lawmakers who voted vs divorce

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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‘Moral victory’: Bohol bishop writes to lawmakers who voted vs divorce

'COURAGEOUS STANCE.' Tagbilaran Bishop Alberto Uy (center) and the three Boholano lawmakers who voted against the divorce bill at the House of Representatives (L-R): Kristine Alexie Tutor (3rd District), Edgar Chatto (1st District), and Maria Vanessa Aumentado (2nd District).

Photos from their official sites

Tagbilaran Bishop Alberto Uy thanks the three House representatives of Bohol, one of the Philippines’ most Catholic provinces, for their ‘courageous stance’

It was a loss at the House of Representatives, but still a victory for the Catholic Church in Bohol. 

All three of Bohol’s lawmakers at the House – Edgar Chatto (1st District), Maria Vanessa Aumentado (2nd District), and Kristine Alexie Tutor (3rd District) – voted no to the divorce bill, which the lower chamber approved on third and final reading on Wednesday, May 22.

The House passed the bill with 131 yes votes, 109 no votes, and 20 abstentions. 

In an open letter to the three Boholano lawmakers, Tagbilaran Bishop Alberto Uy thanked them for their “courageous stance” despite significant “societal and political pressures.” Their vote, he said, shows the importance of “standing by our beliefs, especially in challenging times.”

“Although we may have lost this particular battle in Congress, the moral victory you have achieved is immeasurable. Your vote is not just a political act but a declaration of faith and conviction that resonates deeply within our community,” Uy said.

The Philippines is the only country in the world, aside from the Vatican, that prohibits divorce.

The Catholic Church opposes divorce because it believes it will make it easier to break up marriages to the detriment of children and society as a whole. Proponents of divorce, however, argue that it will also be children at the losing end if couples are forced to stick to failed marriages. 

Divorce is the next big test for the political influence of the Catholic Church in the Philippines – where Catholicism was the state religion under Spanish colonial rule, and where a former Manila archbishop, Jaime Cardinal Sin, wielded huge influence on the country’s politics until his retirement in 2003 and death in 2005.

With weekly Mass attendance now down to 38% according to a 2023 survey, a mix of factors – including the rise of Evangelical churches, secularism, and political defeats through the years – have diminished the Catholic Church’s influence. It remains the most influential religious group in the country, however, and also the most vocal on human rights issues, including Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

In 2012, the Catholic Church already suffered a monumental defeat after then-president Benigno Aquino III – son of Corazon Aquino, a devout Catholic and former president supported by Sin – signed a controversial law widening access to contraceptives. The reproductive health law was approved despite pressure exerted by Catholic bishops through the years.

In 2022, the anointed presidential candidate of many Catholic priests, nuns, and lay leaders – Leni Robredo, also a devout Catholic – lost to Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the dictator whom the Church helped oust in 1986.

Bohol, if we go by the votes of its three lawmakers, remains one of the strongholds of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. It is, after all, one of the 17 provinces with a Catholic population of at least 90%, according to the 2020 census of the Philippine Statistics Authority.

“Your actions have not gone unnoticed,” the Tagbilaran bishop told the lawmakers, “and your legacy will inspire future generations to remain faithful and true.”

All politics is local, and perhaps all religion, too. 

Will the Church’s influence go beyond Catholic provinces like Bohol? Their final battle for divorce will be waged at the Senate, the chamber of 24 senators representing “24 republics.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com