Catholic Church

Couples for Christ to lead people’s initiative if Philippines legalizes divorce

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Couples for Christ to lead people’s initiative if Philippines legalizes divorce

LEADER. Dr. Jose Yamamoto, president and chairman of Couples for Christ.

Couples for Christ

The 500,000-strong Couples for Christ, which is celebrating its 43rd anniversary, vows a more active role in politics, particularly in the party list

MANILA, Philippines – The lay Catholic organization Couples for Christ (CFC) is ready to mount a people’s initiative campaign if divorce is legalized in the Philippines, the only country aside from the Vatican without a divorce law.

CFC announced this plan as it marked its 43rd anniversary on Saturday, June 22, with a press conference at Manila’s Diamond Hotel on the divorce bill. The proposed law was passed by the House of Representatives in mid-May and is now up for deliberation in the Senate.

“We do pray that the divorce law will not come to pass. But, if and when it comes to pass, Couples for Christ is determined to take the lead in doing the people’s initiative, so that eventually we will be able to repeal that law if it becomes a law of the land,” said Dr. Jose Yamamoto, president and chairman of CFC, in Saturday’s press conference. 

People’s initiative is one of the modes by which laws can be made in the Philippines. For national laws, it involves first collecting the signatures of at least 10% of registered voters (with at least 3% of voters per legislative district), having these verified by the elections commission, and subjecting the proposal to a national referendum where all voters can choose yes or no.

Early this year, people’s initiative was brought up at the House of Representatives as a means to amend the Constitution, but the proposal was unanimously rejected by the Senate.

Yamamoto said CFC prays “that there will be like-minded groups to help us be able to develop and pursue a people’s initiative if and when it is needed.”

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CFC is a lay organization established in 1981 by the Catholic charismatic group Ligaya ng Panginoon (LNP). It began after LNP “saw the need to bring the benefits of the renewal movement not only to the women but also to their spouses,” according to the group’s profile in the Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas website. 

From an initial 16 members, CFC records show it now has 500,000 members across 141 countries and territories. It is present in many parishes and calls itself “the country’s biggest Catholic renewal community.”

CFC is stepping up its opposition to the divorce bill in the context of a deeply divided Catholic-majority country. Even if nearly 79% of Filipinos are Catholic, a recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that 50% of Filipino adults agree with legalizing divorce, while 31% disagreed and 17% were undecided.

Contradicting the stance of Catholic bishops, a group of theologians from the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University recently said the Catholic Church should not get in the way of “those who truly need” divorce in the Philippines. The Ateneo theologians added that legalizing divorce “is a public policy issue, not a religious one.”

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More active role in politics

CFC, which the Vatican permanently recognized as a “private international association of the faithful” in April 2005, is known to stick to the positions of the Catholic hierarchy.

As it enters its 44th year, however, CFC promised more than “just doing advocacy from the outside.”

Yamamoto said the group is also preparing to be “more active” in the party list, a system of representation where advocacy groups or regional parties can win seats at the House of Representatives.

“This is one occasion where Couples for Christ will start with a determined commitment to becoming more active in the party-list system,” he said, stating that this will give CFC the opportunity to advance its “pro-life, pro-God, pro-family, and pro-poor” stance. 

“The Filipinos deserve this kind of governance,” Yamamoto said.

The CFC leader also said the organization “has mobilized and will continue to mobilize our lawyers and also like-minded lawyers so that we can work on the protection of the constitutional rights of families.” At the same time, the group is stepping up its information and education campaign on the divorce bill.

Manifesto against divorce

To clarify its position on divorce, CFC on Saturday released a manifesto calling the Philippines “the world’s last defender of the inviolability of marriage.”

The following are the group’s four major points:

  1. “If divorce is not an option, people will choose their life partner more carefully. Knowing that marriage is a lifetime commitment will help the couple exert their best efforts not only to prepare for but to sustain and nurture the marriage.”
  2. “A husband and wife living together in love can provide the best guidance, inspiration, and emotional support to their children.”
  3. “Children of one-parent families are the silent and often unintended victims of the separation of their parents. Their scars can be emotional, psychological, financial, or physical. Hardest hit are children who are too young, too vulnerable, or too weak to even do something about their situation.”
  4. “A strong family is the foundation of a healthy society.”

In this manifesto, the CFC called on the country’s leaders “not to weaken the marriage bond but instead to work more aggressively to strengthen the family.”

“The rest of the world has chosen to adopt a divorce law. However, sheer numbers are not an indication of stronger and truer beliefs but rather a reflection of human weakness. They do not reflect the fortitude that God has promised to those who follow his word,” the group said.

Read the full manifesto below:

‘Proposing, not imposing’

In an interview with Rappler on Thursday, June 20, CFC executive director Jaime Ilagan explained that the divorce bill contradicts the constitutional description of marriage as “inviolable.” In the context of Catholic beliefs, he added that “marriage is sacred.” (Watch the full interview with Ilagan below.)

Couples for Christ to lead people’s initiative if Philippines legalizes divorce

Ilagan was then asked about common arguments in support of the divorce bill. One of these was the argument that not everyone in the Philippines is Catholic and bound by Catholic teachings. 

“Every one of us, whether you are a Catholic, whether you are non-Catholic, you belong to a family. And a family is standing strong when you have a strong marriage by the parents. That is why we have to fight it all together,” Ilagan said.

Ilagan was also asked about incidents of conflicts and abuse between married couples. A Rappler special report in 2018 noted how the Philippines “continues its struggle to marry faith and freedom, religion and reality amid a high number of broken families in the predominantly Catholic nation.”

“I think that is a reality that we are all aware of,” said Ilagan. “In fact, we, from the very start, we need to understand that there is no perfect marriage at all.”

“But that is not enough reason for us to bid farewell to what we have promised during our marriage. After all, every time that we have those kinds of challenges, the more we go back and bounce strongly as husband and wife, as father and mother to our children,” he said.

Ilagan also addressed criticism that the Catholic Church is forcing non-Catholics to heed its doctrines. “We are no really imposing,” he said, “but rather, we are proposing.” – Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Hey there, CFC! Welcome to the world of politics! It will be intriguing to see how you plan to integrate politics and religion. Is it really only about “proposing, not imposing”? In our country, Muslim men can remarry, but Christian men cannot. Do you have a solution for this social injustice?

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.