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The fight to make divorce legal in the Philippines

By Sunshine Lichauco de Leon, for CNN
Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT) October 6, 2014

Catholic legacy

Divorce is not a new concept in the Philippines. It was legal during the American
colonial period and Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century, but became
prohibited with the enactment of the 1949 Civil Code.

Solita Monsod, professor emerita at University of the Philippines School of Economics,

says religion was behind the move.

"It is because of a very powerful and conservative church hierarchy, and the
dominance of very conservative segments of the catholic laity."

Legal separation allows the couple to live apart and separate their assets, but they are
not free to marry again. In fact, they face being charged with adultery or concubinage if
caught with another partner.

For annulment, specific conditions must be met within a certain time period, and the
marriage is considered valid until the time it is set aside by the courts. It may also
require a detailed investigation where a psychiatrist must declare one partner
psychologically incapacitated.

Costly process

With Roman Catholics accounting for 83% of the population, religion also plays a big
role in the battle over the right to divorce.

The majority of catholic Filipinos prefer to marry in the church, which requires them to
apply for a civil marriage license first. In order to leave that marriage legally and be able
to marry in the church again, a person would have to get both a church and civil

These options not only take years to process, but are very costly. In a country
where two-fifths of the population lives off less than $2 a day, it is impossible for most
Filipinos to even conceive of paying the minimum of $4,000 currently required to end
their marriage legally.
'Moral hypocrisy'

Congressman Zubiri describes the situation as

the height of moral hypocrisy, and believes the
law gives people the opportunity to make a
better choice after having made a bad one.

"It will show people that there is a

second chance," he says. "Many married
women in particular are trapped where they
are abused, their children neglected, or
husbands openly philandering and essentially
saying to them, 'What are you going to do about it, as there is no divorce?'"

He says the option of divorce would "make people more careful on both sides, because
now there is a very distinct possibility that (the marriage) could end."

Although the constitution mandates a separation of church and state, many lawmakers
and citizens believe the political pressure being exerted by the Catholic Church reduces
the chance of the bill passing anytime soon.

"Politicians are practical," Barzaga says. "As much as possible they don't want to
antagonize a major portion of society, which happens to be Roman Catholic."

Divorce is the legal decree dissolving a marriage. There are many reasons why
numerous marriages lead to divorce; infidelity, financial problems, abuse, or possibilities
of not surviving hard times with husband/wife.

Divorce is prohibited in the Philippines due to the enactment of 1949 Civil Code. It is not
encouraged because 83% of the population in the Philippines is Roman Catholic.
However, couples could get annulments which allows them to live apart and separate
their assets.

Annulment is the alternative way invalidate marriage but it will be costly and it can’t be
afforded by a typical Filipino. It would take up to P200,000 (minimum), it would take
years, and it will be requiring multiple investigations involving a psychiatrist if one
partner is psychologically incapacitated to end their marriage legally.

If divorce is such a practical idea, why is it prohibited in the Philippines?

Divorce is prohibited in the Philippines because there are numerous Roman Catholics in
the country and they’ve been living in accordance to the Holy Bible.
'God is displeased with people who divorce faithful spouses'-Malachi 2:14-16.


Reconciliation and communication. These two may be the best solution for preventing
divorce. Technically, divorce is parallel to second chances and to surpass an abusive
relationship. This will be helpful to Filipinos who are trapped in an unhealthy marriage
with no hopes of reconciliation to be away from their partners and go on with their life.

To avoid failure of marriage, one must evaluate his/her decisions to have a successful
relationship and to know his/her partner very well before considering marriage. Aside
from it will make you wise, it will also save you from spending tons of money and lots of

Ethically speaking, divorce is a negative thing from a person who’s not involved in a
failed relationship. On the other hand, for an abused spouse, it might be the best
decision they’ll ever make.

The Church knows that we don’t live in an ideal world and it’s not always how couples
intended it to be but Churches believe that marriage is a sacrament, it is binding for life
and that a couple cannot be un-married.

However, if a relationship can’t be reconciled by various processes, divorce process is

really needed.