A CONSOLIDATED bill seeking to allow divorce in the Philippines has hurdled the House committee level and may be up for deliberation at the plenary in a week.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, principal author of House Bill 6027, said members of the House committee on population and family relations had to cross party lines to approve the landmark measure, which will be called an “Act Providing for Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage,” on Wednesday, February 21.
It stemmed from the salient features of HB 116, 1062, 2380 and 6027, all seeking to allow the dissolution of marriage and address the concerns of couples in failed marriages.
"Ngayon, itong panukalang batas na ito, napaka-significant din ito dahil dito lang nagsama-sama yung majority, yung Makabayan bloc, yung minority (This is significant because this is supported by the majority bloc, Makabayan bloc and minority bloc),” Alvarez said at a press conference after the bill was approved at the committee level.
He said the bill would likely be deliberated upon at next week's plenary session.
Under the proposed measure, spouses have the option to file for an absolute divorce, a legal separation, or annulment of marriage.
Section 3 paragraph 2 of the bill states that the government should assure that the divorce shall be inexpensive and its process, efficient.
Its authors agreed that "indigents," defined under the bill as those who do not have real property of more than P5 million can avail of the court's services for free.
"Upon application of a qualified indigent petitioner, the proper court shall waive the payment of filing fees and other costs of litigation, and shall appoint a counsel de oficio for said petitioner and assign social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists preferably from appropriate government agencies to assist the said petitioner and the court," Section 6 (c) of the bill states.
Cayetano explained that the P5-million ceiling is based on the request of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) during consultations held abroad.
"This is based on the consultations we had with OFWs that you may be earning P20,000 a month but you don't spend all of that on a divorce so we based it on property," Cayetano said.
The measure also provides for summary judicial process or an expeditious manner of resolving the petition of divorce but only on these grounds: (a) when the spouses have been separated for at least five years; (b) when one of the spouses has contracted a bigamous marriage; (c) when the spouses have been legally separated by judicial decree for two years or more; (d) when one of the spouses has been sentenced to imprisonment for six years, even if subsequently pardoned; and (e) when one of the spouses has undergone a sex reassignment surgery.
According to Lagman, the summary judicial proceedings may be concluded in less than a year.
He noted that petitioners need not hire legal counsels during the process as they can represent themselves before the court.
"Yung (The) decision is immediately executory and final, wala nang appeal appeal dito (no appeal may be filed),” Lagman added.
Meanwhile, the grounds for absolute divorce under Section 5 of the bill are limited to the following:
- Physical violence or grossly abusive conduct directed against the petitioner, a common child or a child of the petitioner;
- Physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation;
- Attempt of respondent to corrupt or induce the petitioner, a common child or a child of the petitioner to engage in prostitution or connivance in such corruption or inducement;
- Final judgement sentencing the respondent to imprisonment of more than six years, even if pardoned;
- Drug addiction or habitual alcoholism or chronic gambling of the respondent;
- Homosexuality of the respondent;
- Contracting by the respondent of a subsequent bigamous marriage whether in the Philippines or abroad;
- Marital infidelity or perversion or having a child with another person other than one's spouse during the marriage except when upon the mutual agreement of the spouses a child is born to them by in vitro or a similar procedure or when the wife bears a child after being a victim of rape;
- Attempt by the respondent against the life of the petitioner, a common child or a child of the petitioner; and
- Abandonment of petitioner by the respondent without justifiable cause for more than one year.
Lagman maintained that even with the bill's approval, it remains the policy of the state to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution.
He said there are provisions in the bill that will underscore the state's commitment to preserve marriage. One of these is the mandatory cooling-off period.
"Kahit anong pending petition 'di pwedeng magsimula ang client hanggat di pa mag-expire yung (In any petition, there is a) 6-month mandatory cooling-off period and the court will have to actively intervene to reconcile the parties," Lagman said.
He continued: "Even if there's already a petition filed or a divorce decree already issued, the parties can still reconcile and this will be approved by the court.”
“Kung pending pa ang petition (If the petition is pending) it will be terminated at any stage, kung meron ng (if there is a) divorce decree, it will be recalled and set aside to allow the reconciliation of parties,” he added.
Lagman said there's also a provision in the bill that mandates the state to conduct pre-nuptial and post-patrimonial activities in order to emphasize that marriage is a social institution.
The measure was introduced by Magnificent 7 members Albay Representative Edcel Lagman and Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. as well as Makabayan bloc members: Gabriela Reps. Emmi De Jesus and Arlene Brosas, ACT Teachers Reps. France Castro and Antonio Tinio, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.
Aside from Alvarez, other members of the majority who contributed to the bill are Cebu 3rd District Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia, Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, North Cotabato 2nd District Rep. Nancy Catamco, Taguig City Pateros 2nd District Rep. Pia Cayetano, Isabela 2nd District Rep. Anna Cristina Go, Quezon City 4th District Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Dinagat Islands Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao, Mindoro 1st District Rep. Doy Leachon and Apayao Rep. Eleanor Bulut-Begtang. (SunStar Philippines)