New Internationalist

Till death do us part - or death if we do not part?

‘Till death do us part’… So goes the vow two people make when they marry in front of Jesus Christ or whatever god they choose, with their families and loved ones as witnesses.

They’re in their element, enjoying their happiest moments, and looking the most beautiful they can afford to be – whether that’s in a simple dress or a floor-length, diamond-adorned, pearl white bridal gown.

They will walk down the red carpet and all who have witnessed the momentous event will remember the sparkle in their eyes and the almost tangible euphoria of that thing they call love as the wedding singer’s voice reverberates in the air.

Or not? Photo by AForestFrolic on Creative Commons license.

Fast-forward to five or ten years of married life and for many, a slow death has just begun.

Some marriages turn out to be the hell that couples never, not once in their lives, imagined it to be. There are all sorts of abuse and suffering. In the Philippines, for instance, at least one out of 10 women suffers from domestic violence.

And as it is in macho and patriarchal societies, in the Philippines, there’s the widespread problem of infidelity. Infidelity is common in a country where there is no divorce law. The Philippines and Malta are the only two countries in the world with no divorce law (and Vatican City, if it’s considered a state).

It is because of this that almost every Congressional term, a new lawmaker attempts to pass a divorce bill into law. Needless to say, many have tried but none have succeeded in this pre-dominantly Catholic country.

Still, some lawmakers try again and again. The latest attempt is by Bayan Muna Party-list representative Neri Colmenares. Colmenares’ proposal aims to expedite the annulment process.

Filed on 17 January, Colmenares’ bill seeks to amend Article 36 of the Family Code of the Philippines.

According to the Family Code, annulment of a marriage is allowed if one spouse is proven to be psychologically incapacitated to comply with the marital obligation, ‘even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.’

In an article published on, Colmenares noted that at present, only the rich can afford to have their marriages annulled since the proceedings can be costly.

As such, Colmenares’ proposal recognizes ‘spousal violence, infidelity, and abandonment as presumptive psychological incapacity’. And these can be grounds for annulment of marriage.

Colmenares’ proposal seeks to hasten the annulment process by adding more grounds for the filing of an annulment case.

However, the highly pretentious Catholic Church in the Philippines is already raising its voice against the proposal.

Whether or not the latest attempt for something close to divorce prospers or not is anybody’s guess. Some are eagerly counting on it. But while some unhappy couples wait in agony, the harsh reality of living in hell remains for some people – even as years ago, with their eyes locked in love, they promised to love each other in sickness and in health.

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  1. #1 Giedre 24 Jan 11

    Is the main opposition to a divorce law coming from the Church?

  2. #2 onedaywonder 25 Jan 11

    Thanks for this Iris. I remember my visit to the Philippines some years back. I met many courageous, strong women involved in all kinds of challenging activism and social concerns, who were also struggling to raise families on their own, unable to move on with their lives due to the sexist nature of their society.
    Their husbands had just gone ahead and shacked up with someone else, often having another family with this partner. But these women had no recourse to divorce. Indeed, it is likely that their husbands abandoned them because of their strength of character as society seems to demand a certain degree of servitude from Filipino women. It seemed such a shame that these women who were contributing so much to society (or indeed any other Filipino woman) should have to remain legally shackled to men who had treated them with such disregard.

  3. #3 Iris Gonzales 26 Jan 11

    Hi Giedre,

    Yes, the main opposition to the proposed law unfortunately comes from the Church and here, the Church is very powerful and influential because it is a predominantly Catholic country.

  4. #4 Iris Gonzales 26 Jan 11

    And to Onedaywonder,

    Thank you for reading! Yes, it's really a sad reality here in the Philippines when times have changed so rapidly. We are stuck in traditional times, it seems.

  5. #5 glen noble 06 Apr 11

    till death do us part-or death if we do not part?

    It is a sad reality that catholic church opposes this bill,even when the reality speaks so loud.they just close their eyes and shut their ears to the wailing of the people who were badly hurts and abuse especially the women and children who are usually helpless and wishing and hoping that there will be a law that would help them experience a new life without abuse.though there are laws to protect (children & women they are hardly implemented and everyone would agree with me.I for example tried to keep my family intact,for 18 years of suffering and abuse,psychologically,physically and most of all verbally, now finally i gave up.the more i tried to stay in the marriage the more that i exposed my 3 daughters to abuse & trauma, this is what push me to finally decide to do legal steps.but the process takes so long and very depressing.this bill will serve as our saviour and great help
    so we can start a new phase in our lives and build again.please, please, help this bill becomes a law.thanks to all.

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

Read more by Iris Gonzales

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