About 80 of them gathered at the University of the Philippines Sunken Garden last Sunday, May 27, to make a point, to make a stand, and make their voices heard. One flew in from the Middle East, another one from the United States. They came from as far north as Isabela and as far south as Davao. They piled into vans and buses, traveling for as long as 12 hours to make it to the early morning assembly for the Walk for Divorce.
Their numbers were modest, but it was a strong show of force and solidarity by divorce advocates rallying for the legalization of divorce in the Philippines.
Emman Salamanca flew in from Abu Dhabi and made a stop at the Sunken Garden before going home to his province. Like many Filipinos, being an OFW for many years put a strain on Salamanca’s marriage. He and his wife have been separated for many years now. She has a new partner and they have a child together, but she and Salamanca remain on good terms.
“I met the guy and even had lunch with them. I’m happy for them. I wanted to be here to join the fight for divorce not just for me but also for her so that she can be free to start her own life,” said Salamanca in a mix of English and Filipino.
Minda came all the way from Zambales with her children and her two best friends who are happily married. Her partner of 23 years is an OFW working in Qatar. He has been separated from his wife for 26 years but has not had his marriage annulled because of the costs involved.
“I hope that legislators see that we really need divorce in the Philippines. We have been together for 23 years, but we can’t get married because my partner remains married on paper to his ex-wife. How about people like me? Will we be relegated to being ‘the mistress’ for life?” said Minda, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Minda and her partner have been together for so long and have a happy, loving relationship. We have seen how hard it is for her and her kids to be in a situation like this,” said Ellen, who came to show her support for her friend.
The protesters marched around the UP Oval, calling for the passage of the divorce bill and stopped momentarily for a flash mob to dance “I Will Survive” and “Survivor.”
Those who could not physically be there watched the event on Facebook Live and posted updates on Facebook and social media.
It all started in 2016 with only 4 people. Four women met in a coffee shop, thinking of how they could actively and publicly call for the legalization of divorce.
The women had met on one of the pro-divorce Facebook groups. At the time, the online space was the only place where they and hundreds of others like them could talk about the heartache of their failed marriages and the agony of having to remain married to your estranged spouse because there is no divorce in the Philippines.
They wanted to bring their online discussions offline to reach a wider audience and thought of organizing a Walk for Divorce protest march at the UP Sunken Garden. That was back in April 2016. Only 10 people showed up at the time.
“Some said they could not come because it was too far. Others could not cover transportation expenses. And others were simply afraid to come out and show their faces and publicly call out for divorce,” said Cecil Jueco, one of the organizers of the Walk for Divorce.
The group was not deterred by the poor turn out. They went back to the platform that brought them together – Facebook – with renewed determination to find other ways to demand that the government make a divorce bill a priority.
As the number of members in the Facebook groups grew, so did their collective frustration and indignation – and their confidence to come out.
When the Gabriela Women’s Party filed the divorce bill in August 2016, pro-divorce advocates from the different Facebook divorce groups came together to show their support for the bill by marching in Batasan.
The pro-divorce Facebook groups and their efforts caught the attention of media outlets and their stories spread.
Growing clamor for divorce
Data from the Social Weather Stations released last March shows that 58% of Filipinos are in favor of legalizing divorce in the Philippines.
Apart from the Vatican, the Philippines is the only country in the world that does not have divorce. The legal remedies available for severing a marriage, such as legal separation and annulment, are not sufficient nor do they reflect the realities of why some marriages go bad.
Legal separation, for example, allows couples to live apart and divide conjugal assets but neither will be allowed to remarry. The prerequisites for annulment are extremely rigid and limited. Domestic violence and infidelity are not recognized as grounds for annulment.
A bill legalizing divorce in the Philippines was approved by the House of Representatives last March. It is the first time since 2005 that a bill pushing for the legalization of divorce has come this close to being passed into legislation.
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman, one of the principle authors of the divorce bill, was present during the Walk for Divorce rally at the UP Sunken Garden. He is optimistic about the chances of the bill being passed in the Senate too.
“There are many senators who are open to the divorce bill. We only hear the vocal ones who are against the divorce bill, but they may just not be informed. They think that the bill promotes quickie divorce like in the US, but there are provisions in the bill that prevent this.”
Still, it will be a long fight. There is currently no sponsor for the divorce bill in the Senate. Vicente Sotto III, before he became Senate President, said that a divorce law is not likely to be passed.
The divorce advocates refuse to be discouraged. After last Sunday’s Walk for Divorce, they intend to reach out to the different senators and share the stories and testimonies they have compiled from divorce advocates from all over the world.
Support from kids
The divorce advocates have yet to get the full support of the Senate, but they are getting a lot of love and support from their kids. This is one fight that pro-divorce mothers and fathers will not have to face alone.
“We adore our mom. We saw how difficult it was for her to be a single mom. She wouldn’t show us, but we knew there would be times when she would cry,” said 21-year-old Steven del Rosario about his mother, Merle Moran.
Steven and his older brother, Sam, have been tagging along with their mom to the different divorce rallies. They carry tables, chairs, banners, and other supplies or, in this case, produced the tie-dyed t-shirts for the event organizers.
“Our mom had to work so hard to put us through school by herself. She was hardly home because she had to work so much, but somehow she always made us feel that she was there for us,” said Sam, 23.
The two boys admit that they never told their mother these things. “We’re just not that kind of family,” they both laughed. Showing up for their mom is the better way for them to show their appreciation.
The Del Rosario brothers have become friends with the other kids who come to the rallies to support their pro-divorce parents. The kids have kind of become surrogate siblings to one another.
The fight for divorce is not just for their parents, but for themselves, too.
“The passage of the divorce bill will benefit everyone. Even the future generation of Filipinos,” said Sam del Rosario. – Rappler.com