Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expresses his opposition to a proposed law in Congress that will legalize divorce in the country. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)
The Philippine's House of Representatives has passed in its third reading a bill that will legalize divorce, despite opposition from President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte, whose first marriage was annulled, said he was against divorce "for the sake of the children."
He said divorce would be bad for children of separated couples and spouses seeking legal action against their respective partners.
"The president is against divorce," said presidential spokesman Harry Roque. "He said it would be disadvantageous to children," he added.
Aside from the Vatican, the predominantly Catholic Philippines is the only country that has no divorce law except for Muslims, although an annulment of marriage is legal, but costly and could take years.
The proposed divorce law in Congress provides that the state shall ensure inexpensive and affordable court proceedings in securing an absolute divorce decree.
The House of Representatives voted 134-57 to pass on March 19 a divorce bill titled "An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines."
Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of the bill, said there is no provision in the constitution that prohibits divorce.
"Unfortunately, what God has put together, couples in irremediably dysfunctional marriages put asunder because of human frailty and mortal limitations," said the legislator.
So-called pro-life legislators oppose the bill and say divorce, "would be very detrimental to mothers and children."
Opposition congressman, Lito Atienza, welcomed the president's stand against the bill.
"He saved the Filipino family with his position against divorce," said Atienza, adding that the president's position is a "display of strength and character."
"He has not allowed himself to be stampeded by the mob on this critical issue. His strong leadership will be remembered for saving the Filipino family and future generations," said the legislator.
Catholic Church leaders have repeatedly expressed their opposition to the passage of the proposed measure.
In a statement released on March 13, Catholic bishops said, "marriages and families are bound to break up more easily" if couples are given an easy way out of their union.
Surveys conducted by pollster Social Weather Stations last year, however, showed that a majority of Filipinos support legalizing divorce.
The proposed law 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 divorced spouses the right to marry again for another chance at marital bliss."
The measure would prioritize Filipino migrant workers with respect to court hearings while mandating summary proceedings for certain grounds of absolute divorce to facilitate and eliminate costly and cumbersome court processes.
It will also provide for a mandatory six-month "cooling off" period for petitioner spouses, during which there will be no action on a petition six months after one is filed.
However, the bill still needs to pass through the Senate before it reaches Duterte to sign into law. But given his opposition to divorce it is not certain whether Duterte will veto it or not.