SECTIONS
Monday, August 26, 2019

Seares: Divorce law is what SC says it is

“The state recognizes the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation... It shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development... Marriage as an inviolable social institution is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the state.”
-- Sections 1 & 2, Article XV, 1987 Constitution

THERE is no specific provision in the Constitution that prohibits absolute divorce. But we do have (1) legal separation, (2) annulment and (3) declaration of nullity of marriage. Existing laws, however, make relief virtually impossible for many couples who can no longer stand each other under the same roof.

House Bill 6027, which House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez says will pass before Christmas, precisely seeks to provide that: a quick divorce on two catch-all grounds: “irreconcilable differences” and “severe chronic unhappiness.”

Running debate

The nation has debated the issue of divorce to near exhaustion and collapse, with earlier bills (from Gabriela, Rep. Edcel Lagman and others) littering Congress archives.

The new initiative -- led by the speaker himself who believes a dying or dead marriage must be quickly and judicially terminated with prejudice -- seems headed towards the Senate, then to a president who’s also not keen about saving terminal unions and is likely to sign it into law.

Court litigation

The Catholic Church and its defenders may as well brace for court litigation, which may be the only way for the law to be stopped.

The ground will be constitutionality. The specific provision to argue on will be Sections 1 and 2, Article XV, on “The Family.”

It’s not a cut-and-dried case though for those who’d take down the Alvarez law. The Constitution doesn’t expressly say that absolute divorce, which HB #6027 seeks to grant, is prohibited.

Statement of policy

No explicit ban, just a statement of policy about promoting and protecting the family. Petitioners against the law, once signed, must prove why absolute divorce, granted in the quickie fashion of HB #6027 violates the Constitution’s intent.

“CBCP News,” publication of the Catholic bishops association, in its Nov. 20, 2017 editorial, notes that “divorce promotes divorce.” The possibility of divorce already “weakens the resolve to get married for a lifetime.” That may not be enough to convince the Supreme Court justices that “lifetime marriages” are essential to enforcing the Constitution’s intent.

Changing tack

But the church may be revising its tack in opposing the divorce legislation. Msgr. Joseph Tan of the Cebu Archdiocese noted the vagueness of the law: what does “severe or chronic unhappiness mean”? All marriages are afflicted with occasional unhappiness attack. When would that be a cause for ending the union? Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro dwelt on the suffering of children once “the floodgates of divorce” are opened.

Less on the biblical argument that “what God has put together, let no man can put asunder.” More on the warning against adverse effects of an ambiguous law that processes the breakup via the express or “to go” lane.

SC to decide

Ultimately though, it will all depend on how the SC justices will interpret the Constitution: whether absolute divorce under the Alvarez bill will be deemed anti-marriage and thus negate the intent of the fundamental law.

The Constitution is what the high tribunal says it is. Given its rulings on recent controversial issues -- from the Marcos hero’s burial to the non-bailable jailing of de Lima -- one can see where the wind blows. Alvarez and other married people similarly situated as the speaker will get the “liberation” that Lagman talks about in making his pitch.

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