A couple walking their dogs in a Manila park pass by a poster proclaiming a church group's opposition to the legalization of divorce in the Philippines. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Philippine Catholic bishops have appealed to legislators to reconsider the passage of a divorce bill and to make room for "reasoned debates on the issue."
In a pastoral statement released on March 13, they said, "marriages and families are bound to break up more easily" if couples are given an easy way out of their union.
"With due respect to [the legislators], we beg them to make room for more reasoned debates on the issue," said Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the bishops' conference.
He said lawmakers should first submit their personal opinions for further consultation with their constituents before passing such an important bill.
"Ask people and they'll have no second thoughts affirming that the family remains one of our most valued treasures as Filipinos," said the prelate.
The Philippines is the only country in the world, aside from the Vatican, where divorce is not allowed, except for Muslims.
Survey shows Filipinos want divorce
Surveys conducted by pollster Social Weather Stations last year, however, showed that a majority of Filipinos support legalizing divorce.
The survey results were released on March 9 as debates on the divorce bill began in the Lower House of Congress.
Conducted from March 25 to 28, 2017, and Dec. 8 to 16, 2017, the survey, showed that 53 percent of Filipinos back legalizing divorce.
It also showed that 30 percent "strongly agreed" while 23 percent "somewhat agreed" with the proposal for irreconcilably separated couples.
The survey results showed that 32 percent did not back legalizing divorce.
On Feb. 21, the House of Representatives committee on population and family relations accepted a bill that would introduce divorce in the Philippines.
This week, legislators started debating the bill titled "An Act Providing for Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines."
It aims to give irreconcilably separated couples access to a cheaper and faster alternative to annulment, which can take years and can cost up to US$10,000.
The bill also seeks to "save children from pain, stress and agony consequent to their parents' constant marital clashes" and "grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again for another chance at marital bliss."
Bishops warn of 'social cost' of divorce
In their statement, the bishops suggested that legislators consult experts in various fields to study the implications of the issue.
"The social costs that go with an easy recourse to the dissolution of a marriage ... are what we ask our legislators to consider seriously," they said.
Archbishop Valles clarified that the bishops are not questioning the fact that there are failed marriages and that "not all married coupled were joined together by God."
But the prelate said there are already provisions for both canonical and civil annulments for these cases.
"The legal remedies for such difficult circumstances are not lacking in our existing laws, both civil and canonical," he said.
There are provisions "that demonstrate how seriously we take marriage as an institution, such that we make room for the possibility that some marriages might have been null and void from the start," he added.