divorce in the Philippines

[Rappler Investigates] They want out, but can’t

Chay F. Hofileña

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[Rappler Investigates] They want out, but can’t

Marian Hukom/Rappler

'The debate about divorce is a complicated one for a predominantly Catholic country that’s the only one (besides the Vatican) without divorce laws as a legal remedy for failed marriages'

Do you know of a Filipino woman trapped in a miserable, seemingly senseless existence that she is powerless to get out of? Have you heard of a despondent Filipino woman toiling overseas, with children left behind to relatives or a husband without a job? Have you encountered a Filipina pining for happiness that has eluded her for most of her life because of a meaningless marriage that has kept her ensnared and sorry? She wants out, but can’t because divorce is non-existent in the Philippines.

These similarly situated women are not alone. And, to be fair, it may not be just women, but also men who find themselves in similar circumstances. Chances are, however, more Filipino women than men are suffering from the unfortunate fates of their failed marriages.

A March 2024 survey of polling firm Social Weather Stations shows that about half of Filipino adults support the legalization of divorce for “irreconcilably separated couples.” The Philippine Statistics Authority, based on its 2020 census, says that about 1.6 million Filipinos were recorded as “annulled, separated, or divorced.”

Michelle Abad, who usually writes about women’s issues, tells the story of two women whom she named Rhea and Antoniette in this report: For OFWS, distance makes broken marriages harder to fight for. Rhea worked as domestic helper in Saudi Arabia for two years and then for four years as a caregiver in Taiwan. Her husband gave the money she sent home for their kids to his mother and brainwashed their children into believing she left to look for another man and had abandoned her familial responsibilities. It was hard to defend herself when she was far away. 

Antoniette’s tale is similar to Rhea’s. She, too, worked in Taiwan while her husband was without a job. The money she saved went to his women and alcohol. Read more about her hair-raising experience with her husband and the pain she has had to endure in Michelle’s story.

The debate about divorce is a complicated one for a predominantly Catholic country that’s the only one (besides the Vatican) without divorce laws as a legal remedy for failed marriages. Yet, as lawyer Mel Sta. Maria argues, divorce is “not against public policy. Marriage is a legal contract.” It should not be demonized, he says, when it could save lives. Besides, a priest who solemnizes a marriage does so as both a “representative of his religion and an agent of the state.” Thus, much as the Church should not shackle the state in the enactment of laws, the state, too, should not interfere in a religion’s ecclesiastical beliefs or doctrine. The intensity of the debate has resulted in divorce bills getting stuck in the legislature and even the executive hesitating to prioritize them – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is no different thus far.

Marcos Year 2. The President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), his third since assuming power in 2022, is coming up in a little over a week. July 22, a Monday, is when he will be trumpeting his administration’s achievements. House reporter Kaycee Valmonte says government is spending P20 million for this affair made glitzy by parading wives of legislators, if not legislators themselves, on the red carpet. Should it really cost all that much?

We’ve lined up several stories assessing the Marcos administration’s performance in different areas. Track our in-depth stories that will continue to be published in the lead up to SONA 2024. Here’s an initial list in case you missed them:

Now showing at the Senate. If you’re a political junkie, you’ve likely not missed recent hearings at the Senate – on the mysteries surrounding Bamban Mayor Alice Guo and the hubs of Philippine offshore gaming operators, plus the new Senate building featuring senators Nancy Binay and Alan Peter Cayetano. Their colorful verbal tussle is excellent material for a movie script, ending with a walkout, followed by an ethics complaint filed with the Senate ethics committee. You decide who the villain or antagonist is. As researcher Patrick Cruz has found, the Philippine Senate has evolved from statesmen to showmen. Do you agree?

What has happened to these ethics complaints has not always been transparent. In the past, at least based on what was publicized, there were some admonitions, apologies, suspensions, and dismissals. Read about past cases here.

The latest episode on Guo revealed how much of a fabulist Guo is – who, by the day, is turning out to be Chinese and not Filipino. This is sufficient basis for her to be stripped of her post. It’s her misfortune to have attended the same school as Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who proved with records and documents that “Teacher Rubilyn,” who supposedly taught the home-schooled farm girl Alice Guo, is a figment of her wild imagination. – Rappler.com

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1 comment

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  1. AM

    Divorce should be viewed not from the lens of failed, troubled or deteriorating marriages. “Irreconcilable differences” is such a subjective term and can be claimed under tthe slightest hint or perception of discord – then call it as such. Rather divorce must be seen through the eyes of the couple seeking to spend a lifetime together. The permanence of the union, reflected in their vows and covenant with the Lord should cause them to not just think, reflect and meditate whether to commit and give their word of honor to stay together. In the back of their minds these couples making their vows would find it empty and meaningless when in the back of their minds, they could easily end thier commitment before the altar with God and godparents as witnesses, through the simple expedience of a divorce. Vows, honor and covenants lose all their meaning. Might as well lose amend the phrase “to have and to bold, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, til divorce do us part.” So unromantic 🤮

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Chay F. Hofileña

Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.