By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives yesterday took the biggest step in instituting divorce in the country since the legislative proposal was first presented over ten years ago.
Emerging from a hour-long executive session yesterday afternoon, the House Committee on Population and Family Relations unanimously approved the proposed “An Act Instituting Divorce and Absolute Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines”, a consolidation of four separate measures filed by at least 30 congressmen.
The bill seeks to legalize absolute divorce which, under the proposal, will be easier and less costly to pursue.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of the principal proponents, said “chronic unhappiness”, one of the grounds cited in his bill, has been included in the consolidated proposal.
Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano, who co-authored Alvarez’s bill, said she had been informed that two divorce bills will be filed soon in the Senate.
The still unnumbered bill was recommended by a technical working group headed by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, principal author of the Reproductive Health Law, which like the divorce proposal, has been opposed strongly by various religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church.
The House opposition headed by Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez appeared opposed to the bill.
Senior Minority Leader Lito Atienza, who represents the Catholic-backed Buhay Party list, assailed the divorce proposals as “unconstitutional” and anti-family, saying that he and his colleagues in the minority bloc will register their strong objection to the measure on the floor.
The committee approval of the divorce measure can be considered by the authors as the biggest achievement the proposal has taken since the first bill was filed over ten years ago by members of the Gabriela Women’s Party list.
Gabriela Rep. Emmi De Jesus authored one of the four measures filed during the current Congress.
The substitute bill allows troubled couples easier access towards the annulment of their marriages. It also proposes summary proceedings that will shorten litigation proceedings.
The final legislative proposal cites the following as grounds for absolute divorce:
- Physical violence or grossly abusive conduct directed against the petitioner, a common child or a child of the petitioner;
- Physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation;
- Attempt of respondent to corrupt or induce the petitioner, a common child or child of petitioner to engage in prostitution;
- Imprisonment of respondent for more than six years, even if pardoned;
- Drug addiction or habitual alcoholism or chronic gambling on the part of respondent;
- Respondent’s homosexuality
- Bigamous marriage contracted by respondent
- Marital infidelity or perversion or having a child with another person other than spouse during marriage, except upon mutual agreement;
- Attempt against the life of the petitioner, common child or child of petitioner
- Abandonment by petitioner or by respondent without justifiable cause for more than one year.
The bill also provides for annulment of marriage by maintaining the same grounds already provided under Article 45 of the Family Code of the Philippines.
Indigent but aggrieved spouses can be assigned counsel de oficio and exempted from payment of court and docket fees in pursuing divorce.
The indigent spouse, one who owns less than P5 million property, may also avail of psychologists, and psychiatrists free of charge.
Also allowed in the proposed divorce law is the filing of joint petition for absolute divorce by spouses who are separated for five years or legally separated by judicial declaration for at least two years.
The six grounds that will allow availment of summary proceedings are: de facto separation for at least five years; bigamous marriage; legal separation for at least two years; imprisonment of six years of the respondent spouse and sex reassignment surgery of one partner.