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Philippines: House Bill on Divorce Approved in Committee

(Mar. 4, 2020) On February 4, 2020, a bill proposing the legalization of divorce in the Philippines was approved by the Committee on Population and Family Relations of the Philippine House of Representatives. Currently, the Philippines and the Vatican are the only two sovereign states in the world that still prohibit divorce.

Opponents of this initiative argue that, if divorce is allowed, it will destroy the institution of marriage. The author of the bill, Rep. Edcel Lagman, challenged this argument, stating in his sponsorship speech for the bill that, because the proposed divorce law “cannot undo centuries of dearly held Filipino customs and traditions honoring and celebrating marriage and the family[, m]arriage and the family are and will still be at the heart of the Filipino way of life.” Lagman further stated that spouses who are willing to consider divorce do so when they no longer have a functioning marriage. And it is because of failed marriages and the impossibility of reconciliation that the bill’s explanatory note says that the Philippine state has the duty to provide spouses in such relationships with the possibility of divorce.

The bill looks upon divorce as a women’s rights issue. The bill’s explanatory note states that “[n]ot being able to get out of an eventual loveless, unhappy, even abusive marriage is a human rights concern for women,” while section 3(4) of the bill provides that the proposed divorce law is “pro-woman legislation” because it would allow Philippine wives to be liberated from abusive relationships and “regain dignity and self-esteem.”

Nevertheless, the bill contains a general rule providing for six-month cooling-off period after the filing of a petition for divorce during which the court must pursue efforts aimed at reuniting and reconciling the parties. Exceptions to the rule would include instances in which one of the spouses is sentenced to imprisonment for six years, or when the spouses have been separated for at least five years.

The Committee on Population and Family Relations of the Philippine House of Representatives is expected to refer the approved bill to the full House for further analysis and debate.