A bride and groom exchange wedding vows during a church wedding in the Philippines. Catholic Church leaders say legalizing divorce threatens the sanctity of marriage. (Photo by Jimmy Domingo)
Catholic opposition to the legalization of divorce in the Philippines has increased as a women's party filed a bill in congress to amend The Family Code of the Philippines to include divorce as a way for spouses to end their marriages.
Catholic Church leaders were the first ones to raise their voice against the proposal.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the bishops Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said legalizing divorce would only further weaken the institution of marriage that is already under threat due to migration.
"Let us not move towards weakening marriage but instead endeavor to encourage maturity, fidelity, self-sacrifice, respect, and follow the right path in all our human relationships especially in building up families," said Bishop Santos.
"Marriage is not easy," he said while warning that by allowing divorce "more couples will enter into it with less thought and discernment."
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa described the proposal as an "anti-God project" out to destroy the Filipino people. "Please do not let this nation be unfaithful to God and be self destructive," he said.
Filipino culture considered
Congresswoman Emmi de Jesus assured that the "rudiments of Filipino culture and the general sentiment of preserving the sanctity of Filipino marriages" had been considered when she drafted her proposal.
"That is why the measure provides that divorce is granted only when certain conditions are met," said De Jesus, who together with congresswoman Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women's Party filed House Bill No. 2380 or the "Divorce Bill" on Aug. 3.
It was the fifth time the women's party had filed a bill seeking to institutionalize divorce in the Philippines. Past attempts had gone through only one committee hearing.
Opposition of Catholic Church leaders has been one of the biggest obstacles to the passage of the divorce bill, leaving the Philippines the only country in the world, apart from Vatican City, without divorce.
De Jesus, however, maintained that a marriage could only be considered sacred if there is no violence and abuse.
"The state’s constitutional mandate to uphold the sanctity of marriage is not necessarily a result of the number of people getting married or the number of years that they are together," said the legislator.
A survey done by pollster Social Weather Stations in March 2015 show that three out of five Filipinos, or 60 percent, want divorce to be legalized for "irreconcilably separated" couples.
Another survey done later in June of the same year by another group show that up to 67 percent, or two out of three Filipinos, reject a proposed law on divorce.
Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan, a leading human rights and women's rights activist, said divorce is a "middle-class issue."
"The grassroots do not have properties to divide," said Sister Mananzan. "And I notice lately, most of them don’t even get married anymore, so the issue does not interest me enough," the nun told ucanews.com.
"I don’t have a problem with case-to-case divorce," she said.
Cory Villafania, a lay participant in the 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome, admitted that many Filipino families are experiencing crisis "but absolute divorce is not the answer."
She said the challenge for church leaders is to prepare couples for marriage.
"For couples, marriage preparation starts at birth," Villafania said, adding that the state must help "strengthen the bond of every Filipino family: by encouraging perseverance and fidelity."
The Catholic lay leader said if absolute divorce is allowed "the chance to reconcile" becomes impossible.
The proposed bill in congress will not replace "legal separation" and "annulment" in the country's Family Code.
"Legal separation" allow spouses to live apart, but not to remarry, while "annulment" presumes that the marriage never happened.
The proposed law also makes "psychological incapacity" a basis for divorce rather than for annulment.