Legalizing divorce: A battle between church and state in the Philippines

The Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines Act is being condemned by the Catholic Church citing "social costs" as a result of the bill.

Image Credit: Aaron Favila/AP Photo/File

An issue that’s been receiving much opposition from the Catholic Church, the lower house of the Philippines Congress recently passed a bill that would legalize divorce. The predominantly Catholic country is one of only two places in the world that prohibits divorce – Vatican City being the other.

But the bill, Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines Act, which passed 134-57, is being condemned by the Catholic Church citing “social costs” as a result of the bill.

“In a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriages and families are bound to break up more easily,” the Catholic bishops’ statement said. “More children will grow up disoriented and deprived of the care of both parents. Even couples in seemingly successful marriages would often look back and recall the countless challenges that had almost brought their relationship to a breaking point if they had not learned to transcend personal hurts through understanding and forgiveness, or sometimes through the intervention of a dialogue facilitator such as a marriage counselor.”

While divorce was once legal during “the American colonial period and Japanese occupation in the first half of the 20th century,” CNN reported, the 1949 Civil Code quickly prohibited it in what’s being called a religious move.

“It is because of a very powerful and conservative church hierarchy, and the dominance of very conservative segments of the catholic laity,” Solita Monsod, professor emerita at University of the Philippines School of Economics, said.

Current laws allow Filipinos the option to either legally separate, declare nullity or file for annulment, all of which have specific conditions that must be met in order to go through. But Congresswoman Luzviminda Ilagan, representative of Gabriella Women’s Party and co-author of the divorce bill, said there is much hypocrisy, biases and discrimination when it comes to these laws.

“We see many famous or wealthy people getting annulments while those in lower income brackets are not able,” she said. “It’s the hypocrisy – they say we must respect the sanctity of marriage yet they grant annulments to select individuals.”

Under the new divorce bill, there are several requirements that must be met before a divorce will be granted including: one of the spouses undergoes a gender reassignment surgery; the reasons listed to currently allow for a legal separation and annulment; separation of spouses for at least five years; legal separation by judicial decree for at least two years; psychological incapacity, and irreconcilable marital differences, Crux reported.

“It’s not like in Las Vegas or … countries where there is no fault divorce,” Ilagan said.

The divorce bill will also make the “whole process quicker and cheaper – up to 30-40 percent less costly than legal separation or annulment,” CNN reported. And it will end “the discrimination that now exists in the country on the grounds of religion: A Filipino who is Muslim is allowed to divorce; a Filipino who is christian is not,” Monsod said.

The bill now needs to pass the Senate where there is a mix of both support and opposition from senators.

“I believe that it is the right of people who are trapped in a formal relationship to be able to get out of them,” Congressman Joey Zubiri, representative of Bukidnon and outspoken supporter of the bill, said in a report by CNN. “The 21st century Philippines should be a secular, liberal, democratic state where no one particular faith is supposed to dominate affairs of state.”

But the Catholic Church is determined to do everything in its power to stop the legalization of divorce in the Philippines.

“We wish to assert that nothing, not even a divorce law can make us give up our faith in the indissolubility of marriage as a lifetime covenant between a man and woman who have freely said yes to the call to love and commit themselves to God and to each other, through thick and thin,” the bishops said in a statement.


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.