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Friday, August 23, 2019

Seares: No Alvarez quickie but it’s divorce

HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s House Bill #6027 purposely omitted the word “divorce”; so did two other bills that with Rep. Edcel Lagman’s HB 116 were consolidated into one, HR 7303, which was approved on third and final reading last Monday (March 19.)

Lagman’s bill clearly influenced the approved version because, for one, instead of hiding behind the word “dissolution,” they now put the dreaded word up front. HB 7303 that went to the Senate bears the title “An Act to Institute Absolute Divorce & Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines.”

Instead of just “dissolution of marriage,” it’s now “absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage.” The spade is called a spade. The bull of an opposition is grappled with by the horn.

Las Vegas style

Other downers or boosters, depending upon how you view the biblical injunction against a law that would “put asunder what God has joined together”:

[] The House version won’t allow a quickie as in divorce Las Vegas style. A six-month cooling-off period is mandatory and if the couple kisses and makes up, a mere “reconciliation joint manifesto” to the judge is required, no need to formally remarry.

Alvarez had promised a dissolution order “after just one hearing” or “in a matter of days.” The half-year respite clause removes that.

“Chronic unhappiness”

[] Remember Speaker Alvarez’s teaser that “chronic unhappiness” would be enough ground to dissolve the marriage, with bishops wailing for a definition? The approved version takes the phrase out.

But on top of the grounds provided by the existing Family Code provisions on legal separation, annulment of marriage and declaration of nullity of marriage, the absolute divorce bill adds additional grounds.

Including “irreconcilable differences” and joint petition of the spouses which are easier tasks. Under any of the two grounds, the splitting couple won’t have to pay for a psychiatrist to prove “psychological incapacity.” The shrink thing is still listed but a joint declaration that the marriage is “irremediable and beyond repair” is quick and inexpensive.

Constitutional question

[] Defense against constitutional assault. A probable lawsuit before the Supreme Court must have prompted the divorce bill’s authors to set up defenses: one, a provision in “Declaration of Principles” (section 2) that “the state continues to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and foundation of the family”; and two, a provision in the “Guiding Principles” (section 3) that “the state has the role of strengthening marriage and family life by pre-nuptial and post-nuptial programs and activities.”

But it’s not the constitutional barrier that’s more threatening to the divorce bill. After all, there are already three marriage-invasive modes in the Family Code that “attack” the charter’s precept that marriage is “inviolable.”

Senate, Duterte

It’s when and how the Senate will work on it. Not as frenetic as the House members, the senators will take its time and use patience and wisdom to craft a divorce bill that would be less offensive to Filipino culture and yet provide a way out for unions that are “irremediable and beyond repair.”

It’s in the hands of the Senate and the president. The Senate can wreck further Alvarez’s promises. The president can put his foot down and veto the bill.
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