Breaking the silence: Inside the divorce debate

Voices of Dabawenyas from the frontlines of marital abuse
Breaking the silence: Inside the divorce debate
CANVA

Once vibrant and full of life, Sandra and Pamela (not their real names) found themselves trapped in the shadows of abuse at the hands of their husbands. The scars left behind by their harrowing ordeals paint a picture of anguish and torment, leaving deep scars and inflicting trauma beyond measure.

With the House approval of the absolute divorce bill on May 22, 2024, attention has heightened for victims of marital abuse like them.

Breaking the silence: Inside the divorce debate
House approves divorce bill on final reading

A fresh wave of debate has swept across the Philippines, sparking discussions in workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes. Colleagues, friends, family members, classmates, Christian believers, and netizens on social media are all weighing in on the issue.

YES FOR DIVORCE

However, Sandra and Pamela have contrasting views about the divorce bill. While the former wants the divorce legalized, the latter disagrees.

"Uyon kaayo ko ana kay naa ko ana nga sitwasyon. Wala'y married person nga gusto mawasak ang pamilya (I totally agree with that because I've been in that situation. No married person wants to have their family destroyed)," Sandra said. "Pero kinabuhi na ang at risk, dili na pwede mag-stick sa kaminyoon nga wala nay gugma ug respeto sa isa't-isa (But life is already at risk, you can't stick to a marriage without love and respect for each other)."

In 2000, Sandra married her husband, only to find herself battling his affairs with other women throughout their marriage. But that was just the beginning of her misery.

Their heated arguments soon became the norm, escalating to physical abuse from her husband. Despite the pain, Sandra remained silent, enduring it for the sake of their two young daughters.

As if affairs and abuse weren't enough, her husband spiraled into drug use, losing touch with reality. The beatings continued, leaving her to suffer in silence.

Since he started using drugs, everything changed. He became violent and threatened us. He even said it would be better to kill us before taking his own life if we ever left him. I couldn't risk our lives, especially those of our children. I refused to let it come to that.
Sandra, an abused wife

She shared this to SunStar Davao in the vernacular, her voice tinged with pain.

Sandra faced yet another looming battle with her husband while visiting her cousin's place, as their residence was within a compound shared with other relatives. Her husband insisted on dragging her back home, but she stood her ground. Luckily, her eldest brother arrived to intervene, with other relatives coming to her rescue. It was then that she decided to open up to her family about being a battered wife. In the first quarter of 2005, the two separated.

Raising her children alone all this time may have been challenging for Sandra, but since her separation from her husband, her life has been peaceful. Her kids grew up to be loving, thoughtful, and responsible, excelling as students in school.

She found love again, this time with a man who truly loved and accepted her and her children. Together, they welcomed another child into their family. While they desire to have their union blessed by God through marriage, they're waiting for the legalization of divorce as they cannot afford an annulment.

Sandra believes that women like her shouldn't be judged for choosing the wrong person to marry, as everyone is prone to making mistakes. Instead, she asks for understanding and acceptance.

CANVA

WHY NO?

Pamela, who endured physical, emotional, and verbal abuse from her unfaithful husband, opposes the legalization of divorce. She entered marriage in 1994 and separated in 2018, leaving them with two daughters, now aged 28 and 26.

I uphold the sanctity of marriage. Legalizing divorce in the Philippines would provide an easy escape route for spouses, discouraging them from working on their marriage.
Pamela, an abused wife

"The availability of divorce might lead people to enter marriage lightly, assuming they can easily dissolve it if things go awry."

She believes couples should thoroughly consider their commitment before entering holy matrimony. 

Pamela also argues that annulment already offers an option for wives facing abusive husbands.

According to her, divorce has a significant negative impact on children, who suffer the most in such situations.

"If divorce were not an option, couples would be more likely to seriously contemplate their decision before getting married," Pamela stated, opting not to file for an annulment to avoid reliving the pain. She also didn't want her husband to remarry and potentially hurt another woman.

Meanwhile, Lorna Mandin, head of Davao City's Integrated Gender and Development Division (IGDD), said:

Several clients would have wanted to legalize divorce since annulment is costly.

The bill

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the Absolute Divorce Bill's author, sees its passage in the third reading as a pivotal moment in societal views on marriage and relationships. He said legalizing divorce acknowledges the necessity of offering options for individuals stuck in "unhappy and irreparable marriages"

Lagman stated that with the bill's passage, the Philippines, apart from the Vatican, remains one of the few countries where divorce is illegal. He believes this marks a significant victory, offering hope for Filipino wives stuck in harmful marriages.

 Lagman clarified that the bill doesn't allow for "quickie" or informal divorces. It establishes specific grounds for divorce, subject to judicial review to prevent abuse.

These grounds include psychological incapacity, irreconcilable differences, domestic abuse, sex reassignment surgery, and separation for at least five years.

According to the bill, the grounds for legal separation as defined by the Family Code of the Philippines can also serve as grounds for absolute divorce. These include physical violence, coercion to change religious or political beliefs, inducement to engage in prostitution, imprisonment exceeding six years, addiction to drugs or alcohol, habitual gambling, homosexuality, bigamous marriage, marital infidelity or perversion, attempted harm against the petitioner or their children, and abandonment without justifiable cause for over a year. 

Similarly, grounds for annulment under the Family Code, such as lack of parental consent, insanity, fraud, force, intimidation, undue influence, impotence, and sexually transmitted diseases, are also recognized as grounds for absolute divorce.

State of the abused

According to the IGDD report, Davao City recorded a total of 2,707 cases of violence against women and children (VAWC) in 2023, marking the highest number of cases recorded since 2014. 

Breaking the silence: Inside the divorce debate
Davao City records 2,707 VAWC cases in 2023, highest in 18 years

Mandin, in an interview with SunStar Davao, attributed the surge in VAWC cases to the reopening of the economy, post-pandemic. "Pero 2022 nag-start na gyud hinay-hinay balik taas ang cases (But in 2022, the cases slowly started increasing again)."

In 2022, VAWC cases reached 1,864, a surge from 999 in 2021.

Over the years, VAWC cases in the city have varied: 1,197 in 2020; 2,540 in 2019; 2,445 in 2018; 1,834 in 2017; 1,668 in 2016; 1,514 in 2015; and 980 in 2014.

Economic abuse topped the list of VAWC cases in 2023, with a notable increase from 1,016 cases in 2022, followed by psychological/emotional abuse in second place (755 in 2023, 530 in 2022); physical abuse in third (463 in 2023, 291 in 2022); and sexual abuse in fourth (50 in 2023, 27 in 2022).

Mandin said, "For economic abuses, there is typically a conference among parties, but for other cases, they usually file a case in court."

Stacey, who endured an abusive relationship with her live-in partner, shared, "Even if it can be fixed, once he starts hurting you, he will do it again and again. Even if he says he didn't mean it and you forgive him, he will beat you again and again when he gets angry."

She made the difficult decision to end the relationship, despite nearly marrying her partner, and now raises their child alone, receiving financial support from the child's father.

Facing economic abuse in her second relationship, Stacey sought help from IGDD when her former partner suddenly stopped providing child support.

In another development, the IGDD's VAW Tracking System (VTS), a digital database designed to centralize, document, and streamline cases of violence against women (VAW) in the city, is now fully operational. It was first introduced during the Women's Month in March.

The VTS stands as a cornerstone project of the city, aimed at safeguarding women's rights and well-being. Serving as a comprehensive data management system, it will track the status of VAW cases in the city, ensuring clients receive tailored services from relevant agencies. Additionally, it will prevent duplicate reports or cases, streamlining the process for efficient intervention.

Mandin added, "Since the system is newly developed, 200 cases are entered for its testing. The system aims to hasten the recording and track the real-time status of cases."

The IGDD has been collaborating with partner agencies such as the Davao City Police Office (DCPO), the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO), and the Department of Education Davao City Division to gather and consolidate reported cases of VAW in the city.

Amid the national debate on legalizing divorce, Sandra and Pamela's differing opinions underscore the profound challenges of marital discord, emphasizing the critical importance of empathy and swift intervention for victims of domestic abuse. MLSA

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