‘#MalayoPaPeroMalayoNa’: Lawmaker gives update about divorce bill in Congress

March 21, 2023 - 5:58 PM
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Couple taking off rings
Close-up photo of couple taking off wedding rings (Image by Freepik)

“#MalayoPaPeroMalayoNa” was how a lawmaker described the progress of the divorce bill in the lower chamber as he gave an update about the legislative measure on Monday.

Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao del Norte, First District) shared an infographic showing a recent timeline of the bill in the 19th Congress since he filed it in the House of Representatives last year.

“Monday Mood: Ipasa ang divorce bill!” he said on his Facebook page on March 20.

“#MalayoPaPeroMalayoNa ang narating ng divorce bill. Kasalukuyang nakahanda na ang substitute bill para sa approval ng Committee on Population and Family Relations,” Alvarez added, referring to the panel in the lower chamber which tackles the measure.

“Pagkatapos niyan, papunta na tayo sa plenaryo para sa second reading kung saan ihahain na ito para sa konsiderasyon ng ating mga mambabatas. Kapag magawa na iyan, tutuloy na tayo sa third reading,” he continued.

In Congress, a bill must undergo three readings in the House before it gets transmitted to the Senate, following the same process.

After it hurdles the upper chamber, it will make its way to the president’s desk, where the bill can be approved or vetoed.

However, if there are disagreements on the provisions crafted by both chambers, a conference committee will be called upon before the bill reaches the executive branch.

Alvarez filed House Bill 4998 or the “Absolute Divorce Act of 2022” on Sept. 19, 2022.

It underwent first reading in the lower chamber on Sept. 21, 2022. House committee deliberations were held on Feb. 22, 2023, while a Technical Working Group (TWG) tasked with creating a substitute proposal worked on it on March 2, 2023.

The bill has yet to undergo a second and third reading.

According to Alvarez, it has been 175 days since he filed the legislative measure as of Monday.

As of March 2, a consolidated substitute bill reinstating absolute divorce was approved by the TWG.

It happened after House Bills 78, 1021, 1593, 2593, 3843, 3885, 4957, and 4998 were approved in principle by the House Committee on Population and Family Relations last February.

The bills seek to reinstate divorce as a mode of dissolving marriages and strengthening the civil effects of Church annulment.

Legislative proposals to introduce divorce in the country have been filed as early as 2005 during the 13th Congress.

For Alvarez, legalizing it will allow the husband and wife to correct their “error” or “mistake” in “toxic” marriages.

He said that when an incompatible couple is forced to be together, there can be instances of marital abuse, alcoholism, addiction to harmful drugs, gambling, depression, reckless behavior, and neglect for each other and of the children.

“For this situation, a toxic marriage, like an exploding star pulled back and collapsing unto itself, becomes a blackhole where nothing, not even the light of hope and love, can survive or escape,” the lawmaker said last January.

“And when allowed [divorce], studies show that those who are in their subsequent marriage are as happy, if not happier, compared to their previous unions. They have learned the lessons, they know who they are, what they want, and what they can offer, and they apply it to their next relationship,” Alvarez continued.

In his bill, the solon said that divorce saves the children from the “pain, stress, and agony consequent to their parents’ constant marital clashes” and grants the divorced spouses “the right to marry again for another chance to achieve enduring and more compatible marital relation.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, previously argued that it is “abuse” and not divorce that “breaks” couples’ marriages.

“It’s the abuse or the oppression, the lovelessness, that preceded it [divorce],” she said.

Undersecretary for Legislative and Liaison Affairs Luz Ilagan of the Department of Social Welfare and Development also said that divorce “helps individuals, especially women who are suffering various forms of violence from their spouses.”

‘Damages’ the family

For some, legalizing divorce could “destroy a family.”

“It is sad to know that we have legislators who [would] rather focus on breaking marriages and the family rather than fixing them or strengthening the marital bond,” Father Jerome Secillano reportedly told Radio Veritas Asia last July.

A multi-sectoral organization also said that divorce could “divide” the family, whereas a lasting marriage “stabilizes” it and the society as a whole.

“If our Constitution is the only one in the world that guarantees the protection of the institution of marriage as a lasting and permanent union, then this unique and fundamental law must be something to be proud of!” the Alliance for the Family Foundation Philippines, Inc said on its website.

“Divorce also damages the stability and unity of the family, which is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith,” it added.

The organization also said there is “no guarantee” that the next union following a divorce will be “happy or successful.”

“Difficult marriages can be repaired. There are programs that couples can attend to help them out. Besides divorce being costly, it becomes an easy way out, a way to end a marriage in order to remarry or to start a new life without the burden of a family,” it added.

The Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation, is one of the two countries that do not allow divorce, apart from the Vatican.