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Philippine bishops sound alarm over renewed divorce push

Opposition senator reintroduces bill to Congress after similar one died in the Upper House last year

Philippine bishops sound alarm over renewed divorce push

Church leaders in the Philippines are warning that a proposal in the country's legislature to legalize divorce will result in the break-up of families. (File photo by Angie de Silva)

Published: July 16, 2019 08:39 AM GMT

Updated: July 16, 2019 08:42 AM GMT

Catholic bishops in the Philippines have warned against renewed moves in the country's legislature to pass a law that will legalize divorce.

The passage of such a law will only result in the break-up of families, they said.

Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros has introduced a new divorce bill after one was passed by the Lower House in March last year only to be rejected by the Senate.

"Divorce does not keep families together," said Father Jerome Secillano, public affairs committee head of the Philippine Catholic bishops' conference.

"Adding another option for separation increases risk to the family, which, under our constitution and Family Code, is an inviolable institution that must be protected by the state," added the priest.

He said there is no need to pass a law on divorce because there are already available options for troubled couples. "It's not true that legal remedies to formalize separation of couples are not in place," said Father Secillano.

He said a declaration of nullity, annulment and legal separation are available options, although he noted that Filipino couples seem not to avail themselves of these. "If legislators see problems in these remedies, they simply need to fix them," said the priest.

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the bishops' conference, has earlier said marriages and families are bound to break up if divorce is presented as an "easy option."

The prelate said that while he does not question the fact that there are failed marriages and that not all married coupled were "joined together by God," there are provisions for both canonical and civil marriage annulments that are not equivalent to divorce.

Senator Hontiveros, however, said her proposal seeks to make psychological incapacity of either spouse, irreconcilable marital differences, marital rape or being separated for at least five years grounds for divorce, among others.

In her explanatory note for the proposal law, the legislator noted that aside from the Vatican, the Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce is illegal.

"Despite this, the number and proportion of Filipinos who separate has been increasing over time," she said, adding that it shows that "the denial of legal remedies for those seeking to dissolve their union has largely been an ineffective way of upholding the policy of the state to keep families together."

She also said that the absence of a divorce law "has had disproportionate effects on women who are more often the victims of abuse within marriages."

Under the proposed law, physical violence and "grossly abusive conduct" are considered grounds for divorce.

She said that while the state continues to recognize the sanctity of family life, "it is also duty bound to promote and protect the well-being of its citizens."

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