House panel approves divorce bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 22) — A committee at the House of Representatives unanimously approved on Tuesday a bill seeking to reinstitute absolute divorce for married couples who are in a dysfunctional or abusive relationship.

Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said the House Committee on Population and Family Relations passed the substitute bill, which he explained offers an “expeditious, reasonable, and inexpensive” alternative for legally ending a marriage.

“The approval of the substitute bill on absolute divorce for eventual plenary debates assures that the country is now at the threshold of joining the universality of absolute divorce in the community of nations,” he wrote in a statement.

The lawmaker said the template of the measure is his House Bill No. 78, which is “almost a replica” of the one that hurdled the lower chamber during the 17th Congress, or the first three years of the Duterte administration.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the same bill during the 18th Congress.

According to Lagman, 70 lawmakers have signed as co-authors, and “there are many more members of the House who favor the bill.”

He also stressed that the proposed legislation is only for exceptional circumstances where a couple or a spouse suffers “the torment of irreversibly dead marriages.”

“Divorce is not the worst thing that can happen to a family,” he said. “Enduring years of physical violence, suffering emotional abuse, tolerating infidelity, allowing children to live in a hostile home and witness daily discord and constant conflict – these are far worse than divorce.”

In applying for the legal remedy, the bill provides that proof of the cause for divorce must be established, and that the marriage has completely collapsed without any possibility of reconciliation.

“Quickie,” notarial, email, and other speedy drive-thru divorces are prohibited, Lagman said.

After the filing of the divorce petition, there is a cooling-off period of 60 days wherein the judge shall exert efforts to reconcile the parties. If the couple agrees to reconcile any time during the proceedings, the petition would be dismissed, the lawmaker explained.

“Even after the issuance of an absolute divorce decree, when the parties decide to reconcile, the divorce degree shall be nullified,” the congressman added.

The measure also provides for penalties for those who collude to secure a divorce or coerce the other to end their marriage.

According to Lagman, absolute divorce is constitutional and does not go against the Catholic faith.

“There was unanimity in the Constitutional Commission of 1987 where the Commissioners, led by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, said that the Congress has the power to enact a divorce law,” he said.

“Even the Bible cites instances when Jesus Christ allowed divorces," he added. "All Catholic countries, except the Philippines, have legalized divorce which the Papacy has not condemned. Even the Catholic hierarchy has its own matrimonial tribunal which dissolves marriages similar to a divorce."