New Internationalist

The Philippines: a global holdout in divorce

There used to be only two countries in the world – the Philippines and Malta – in which divorce was illegal. But in May, citizens of the Mediterranean nation voted in favour of divorce legalization, leaving the Philippines now the only country in the world which still bans divorce.

Couples locked in difficult and unhappy marriages could only sigh in frustration. The main opponent is the Catholic Church; because it’s very influential in this predominantly Catholic country, lawmakers hardly go against it.

Malta’s decision to legalize divorce has reignited debate here at home. Will the Philippines ever legalize divorce?

A women’s rights group is deviating from the safer position and is instead pushing for the legalization of divorce in the Philippines. However, in a Congress of more than 200 lawmakers, the Gabriela Women’s Party would need all the support it can get. Luz Ilagan, the lawmaker representing the group, said that divorce has been widely recognized around the world as a legitimate option for couples trapped in difficult relationships.

However, the Catholic Church is adamant with its position. Divorce, bishops say, would only destroy the Filipino family.

As early as 2005, the Gabriela Women’s Party has filed a divorce bill but our Congress simply ignored it. Male lawmakers, some of whom keep mistresses, refused to disturb the status quo. Isn’t it hypocritical not to recognize divorce as an option for unhappy Filipino couples?

At present, prevailing laws provide relatively difficult options for couples who want to separate. These are legal separation and annulment or a declaration of nullity of marriage.

Annulment is more popular, but it’s long and costly, and sometimes doesn’t happen at all. A television host, who had been abandoned by her husband, filed for annulment for more than once but her plea was never approved by the courts.

Indeed, annulment needs to be approved by the courts. In some cases, children are asked to testify against one parent and a battery of psychiatrists are summoned to prove the psychological incapacity of a spouse for an annulment to be granted.

But the reality is stark and telling. The number of people filing for annulments and legal separation has grown to 7,753 in 2007 from only roughly 4,500 in 2001.

As for me, I have never been married. I was raised not to believe in it. I think that in this day and age, where the world offers individuals more choices, it should be an option available for everyone.

As I’ve written in my earlier blog, for some people, it can be hell if they do not part.

Nobody wants to throw in the towel just like that, but if you’re trapped in an abusive relationship, you would not want to stay in hell as well.

Not in the same direction. Photo by Paul Aloe under a CC licence.

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  1. #1 djl3454 05 Jul 11

    the stand against divorce is like being the only country alowing salvery.

  2. #2 Iris Gonzales 06 Jul 11

    To djl3454,

    Thanks for your comment. That's one way of putting it!



  3. #3 onedaywonder 07 Jul 11

    While all of society suffers, the burden falls disproportionately on women.
    In my short exposure to Filipino society, I came across a remarkably large number of women struggling as single parents, unable to divorce their husbands, who had moved on and started new families with other women.
    The Church's influence on local government 'pro-life' policies also makes contraception difficult to find. Women with unwanted pregnancies are left with horrible 'choices' - giving their children up for adoption or undergoing back street abortions.

  4. #4 Iris Gonzales 08 Jul 11

    Thanks for your comment OnedayWonder. Yes, Filipina women are a brave lot.

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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]

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