The Philippines Fights for Divorce Rights

The Philippines is one of two remaining countries in the world where divorce remains illegal; the other is Vatican City. Despite the advent of a more liberal Pope, change is slow in coming to the political scene in Manila where the influence of the Church is still highly pervasive. Gabriela (a political party that defines itself as representing women’s interests) filed a divorce bill to be heard in the 16th Congress and it is set to be one of the biggest political battles of the year.

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At present, a couple who separate can either file for an annulment or, in severe cases such as domestic abuse, a woman can apply for a protection order; however both options are problematic. An annulment is an incredibly costly process, averaging at around 120,000 Philippine Pesos( more than the average annual income), and can only be sought on the grounds of issues present at the time of marriage (for example lack of parental consent or forced consent). Furthermore it takes several years and is an involved legal process. The other option which enforces a form of legal separation – a protection order – is difficult to obtain and can be a complicated and challenging legal process for women who are already suffering. In addition, with a protection order there is still no allowance for remarriage of either party, meaning there is no legal way to move on with a new partner in the future.
According to the Philippine Commission on Women, one Filipino woman in seven suffers physical spousal abuse, with a higher number still suffering emotional and mental abuse, and 8% will be subjected to sexual violence. At present these women have no legal way to move on with their lives if they find a way to leave their husbands. Nor is there any form of separation barring annulment that allows a man to remarry. The bill proposed by Gabriela does not propose a radical divorce law; it contains five stringent conditions that must be met in order for a divorce to be granted.

one Filipino woman in seven suffers physical spousal abuse, with a higher number still suffering emotional and mental abuse, and 8% will be subjected to sexual violence

The bill was filed originally in last year’s congress and is due to be resubmitted this year as other battles meant it didn’t get sufficient attention previously. However, Representative Marcelino Teodoro has already filed an ‘anti’ bill, designed to prevent divorce ever becoming legal in Filipino law. If the bill passes, not only would it ensure that absolute divorce (and therefore the right to remarry) can never be enshrined in law, but that divorce if obtained abroad would be invalid in the Philippines. All of this is framed by the arguments and power of the Catholic Church.

The Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill) that was finally passed last year suffered similar battles; women’s activists had to take on the power of the Church when advocating for the bill, and despite their success in getting the bill passed by Congress it remains caught up in the Supreme Court due to a restraining motion being filed.

The inability to enact both of these bills into law, let alone the follow through after passing, shows that despite the advent of a supposedly liberal Pope and the theoretical separation of Church and State in Manila, neither of these are the case for the people of the Philippines.

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