A couple ride in a 'tricycle,' a common means of transport in the Philippines, following their wedding. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
The proposal to legalize divorce in the Philippines will be the talk of the town once debates in congress over the measure start. There will be pros and cons to the issue, there will be a lot of actors on the scene, and the discussion will be long and winding, something Filipinos, who are fans of soap operas, love.
Proponents for the legalization of divorce maintain that their proposal does not in any way disregard the constitutional provision to protect and strengthen marriage and family as basic social institutions. They say they value the dignity of every human person, guarantee full respect for human rights, and will ensure the fundamental equality of women and men before the law.
The present Family Code of the Philippines allows legal separation and annulment as legal remedies to end a marital relationship.
While legal separation prevents an abusive partner harming his/her spouse, the party abused cannot remarry. On the other hand, annulment declares a marriage null and void, so both parties can enter into a new marital relationship.
But the process is very long and expensive, hence not practical to many poor Filipinos. The proposed amendment to the law would seem to provide a solution to the agony caused by many failed and unhappy marriages across all Filipino classes.
This, however, would present a dilemma of conscience for many Filipinos, most of whom are Catholics who believe in the indissolubility of marriage, which is diametrically opposed to divorce.
Secondly, Filipino culture puts the family at the center of one’s life: the main source of financial security, the fountain of one’s emotional, moral and spiritual nourishment. The break up of family life would destroy the marital relationship and also the physical advancement, the emotional growth, the moral and spiritual development of every member of the family, especially the children.
It appears that the proposed divorce law would be contrary to the constitutional provision to protect and strengthen marriage and family as basic social institutions.
Making the dissolution of marriage easily available and affordable would make it easier for irresponsible partners to have legal access to multiple marital abuse, which is detrimental to the building of a healthy society.
Given the family-centered Filipino culture, the legalization of divorce may, instead of saving the dignity of human beings, contribute to the proliferation of emotionally sick, morally ill, and spiritually bankrupt individuals.
Filipino culture will be under attack with a divorce law. Fidelity in any relationship is a mark of the Filipino soul. And a deep sense of gratitude to one’s source of life defines the Filipino cultural identity.
As we Filipinos say, "Those who do not know how to look back to their roots [family], cannot reach their destination."
It speaks of the fundamental role of the family as a source of one’s total security in society. A broken family (because of divorce) will unlikely sustain the energy required for one to journey through life. It is because the person’s main source of emotional, moral and spiritual energy is destroyed.
Finally, with the legalization of divorce, the Filipino spirit is put on trial. As a predominantly Catholic country, Filipinos believe in the sacredness of marriage and family life. Both are gifts of the ultimate source of life and love who has never abandoned His people through the course of history.
Christian history has been characterized by God’s unconditional fidelity of his love and mercy to his continually sinful people.
In the New Testament, God’s fidelity made flesh, Jesus Christ, uttered unconditional forgiveness to a sinful humanity. The human face of God’s mercy and compassion became faithful in his relationship with man until the last drop of his blood.
Marriage, from the perspective of the Catholic faith is a sacrament. If Jesus is the sacrament of God the Father, the church is the sacrament of Jesus. And the church, being faithful to God, in Jesus, establishes the sacraments, which are an unconditional source of God’s mercy and grace.
Marriage as one of the Catholic Church’s sacraments has this indelible identity of God’s fidelity to his people. Married couples are, therefore, called to give witness to a life of God’s fidelity to his people by being faithful themselves throughout life. Thus, divorce is certainly opposed to a Catholic Christian marital and family life.
Bonifacio Tago Jr. is vice president for academic programs and professor of philosophy at Good Samaritan Colleges in Cabanatuan City, Philippines. He is currently taking up a doctorate degree in Theology in Consecrated Life at the Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia.