By Ellson Quismorio
A substitute bill calling for the institutionalization of “absolute divorce” in the Philippines will be submitted for approval tomorrow before the House committee on population and family relations.
This was announced in a press conference today by Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman, who headed the technical working group (TWG) that gave its nod to the currently unnumbered substitute bill.
“Before noon today, the technical working group approved the consolidated substitute divorce bill and this will be presented for consideration of the mother committee, the House committee on population and family relations, tomorrow in the afternoon,” Lagman said.
Committee chairperson Laguna 3rd district Rep. Sol Aragones created the TWG earlier this year specifically to facilitate the harmonization of House Bill (HB) nos. 116, 1062, 2380, and 6027.
Lagman, a member of the opposition and an experienced legislator, vowed that the proposed statute would be the heaven-sent solution for individuals who want out of their unhappy or abusive marriage but don’t want to go through the costly and arduous annulment route.
“We are proposing an inexpensive and affordable divorce process which would also observe a decent process in which case, litigants or petitioners will be given the opportunity to file their petitions without paying the penalties and cause of litigations,” Lagman said, noting that such provision will apply to indigents.
It was learned during the panel hearings that annulment fees could reach as much as P250,000, Lagman said. Non-indigents will have to pay much less than that as per the substitute bill.
The Bicolano proudly described the measure as a “pro-woman legislation.”
“Because in most cases it is the wife who is entitled to an absolute divorce in order to be liberated from an abusive situation and also for her to redeem her dignity and self-respect,” he noted.
The Philippines, which is a predominantly Catholic country, is among the last few nations in the world that does not recognize divorce.
The substitute bill will be taken up by the committee at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Call spade a spade
Lagman said the measure’s title follows that of his own bill, HB no.116, or “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce In The Philippines And For Other Purposes.”
Another author, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, had wanted the process to be named the “dissolution of marriage” instead, as what appears on his own measure.
“We have maintained the original proposition in my HB no.116 that it should be called absolute divorce. This time, let’s call a spade a spade,” explained the TWG head.
Lagman said they also ditched Alvarez’s proposal to make “chronic unhappiness” as a ground for divorce. “It’s hard to determine, it’s so subjective and it approximates an esoteric ground.”
This notwithstanding, the substitute bill appears to be a very balanced consolidation among the four base measures on divorce.
From Alvarez’s bill, the provision regarding irreconcilable differences and the right of the spouses to file a joint petition for divorce was adopted, he said.
“The grounds for absolute divorce are the existing grounds for legal separation, annulment of marriage and nullification of marriage, more particularly the psychological incapacity. But there are additional grounds like the de facto separation for five years and the marriage is beyond repair,” Lagman said.
The five-year de facto separation provision was taken from the divorce bills of Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Barbers and Gabriela Party-List Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas.
“Another ground is if one of the spouses had undergone change in sex or what is known sexual reassignment,” Lagman added.
“The petition [for divorce] can be filed by one of the spouses or jointly by both spouses in certain circumstances or grounds,” he further said.