Editorial: Keep an open mind

DIVORCE is far from being the feared “easy option” for Filipinos escaping troubled marriages.

Even before the House of Representatives approved on March 19 House Bill (HB) 7303, known as “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) already called for “more reasoned debates” among lawmakers, claiming that divorce was presented to Filipinos as “quick legal remedies.”

The CBCP warned that divorce may end up shutting down marriages that could have been saved through counseling. Archdiocese of Cebu spokesperson Msgr. Joseph Tan fears that divorce may become the “go-to pill” for fighting couples, reported Justin K. Vestil in SunStar Cebu on March 24.

When couples fight nowadays, the quickest solution is to separate. For cohabiting middle-class couples, the complications revolve around who moves out, who stays in, and who takes which possessions.

For urban poor women, common-law relationships should offer more flexibility to instantly exit. They can bring their children. There are hardly properties to settle.

Yet, financially dependent women struggle to leave abusive partners.

A Filipina is a victim of domestic abuse every two hours, according to the monitoring of the Gabriela Women’s Party reported by gmanetwork.com on July 11, 2008.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) reported a “big leap” in the public’s reporting of incidents involving domestic abuse to authorities. From 1,100 in 1996 to more than 6,500 cases in 2005, these cases involved the husbands as primary perpetrators, followed by live-in partners and boyfriends.

Yet, PNP sources speculated that there is underreporting of cases. A victim’s avowals of “forgiveness” and desire for “family togetherness” disguise the dependence that silences and forces women to cling to abusers.

Supporting the legalization of divorce in the country, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus argued that, “If there are violations of these obligations (within a contract of marriage), that sometimes even endangers the life and sanity of the couple, it is just for the state to also recognize their right to end the contract and exit the failed relationship,” “The Philippine Star” reported on March 20.

While the church expresses concern for the welfare of children if divorce is legalized in the country, children witnessing the abuse of their mother committed by their father or mother’s partner are already victims of domestic violence.

The same GMA article reports that the three million Filipino children witnessing abuse at home are more likely to be abusive when they grow older, quoting the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

How will legalizing divorce give the most vulnerable—women and children—better alternatives?

If HB 7303 is passed, the “State shall assure that the court proceedings for the grant of absolute divorce shall be affordable and inexpensive, particularly for court assisted litigants and petitioners.”

At present, there are only two legal measures for those who want to leave a marriage that no longer works: annulment or legal separation.

Both involve money and a protracted process. Only annulment permits remarriage.

The Gabriela Women’s Party and other divorce supporters regard HB 7303 as “pro-women” and “pro-children.” When a couple informally separates or a wife escapes from an abusive partner, the welfare of their child or children is uncertain.

Included in a joint petition for divorce will be a “plan for parenthood that details support, parental authority, custody and living arrangement of the common children,” reported “The Philippine Star.”

Considering the welfare of women and children “released” from domestic abuse and dead-end marriages, Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia (Cebu, third district) urged the public and HB 7303 critics to “keep an open mind,” reported SunStar Cebu.
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