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The Absolute Divorce Bill Just Got A Nod From The House Panel—Here's What You Should Know

It's a significant progress for the country.
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The bill seeking to reinstitute absolute divorce in the Philippines has earned the nod of a House panel on Tuesday, marking a significant progress in the only country in the world, outside the Vatican, that outlaws it. The proposed Absolute Divorce Act seeks to provide an option for each spouse to file for divorce and allow them to re-marry.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has long taken a hardline stance against divorce, contraception, and gay marriage. Women's rights advocates said the absence of a divorce law traps many in abusive marriages.  "It is hard to believe that all the other countries collectively erred in instituting absolute divorce in varying degrees of liberality and limitations," Albay Rep. Edcel Lagmanone of the measure's authors, said in his sponsorship speech.

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Under the measure, existing grounds for legal separation, annulment of marriage, and nullification of marriage based on psychological incapacity under the Family Code are recognized as justifications for absolute divorce.

Other bases for divorce include: 

  • Separation in fact for at least five years at the time the petition for absolute divorce is filed
  • When one of the spouses undergoes a gender reassignment surgery or transitions from one sex to another
  • Irreconcilable marital differences as defined in the bill
  • Domestic or marital abuse
  • Valid foreign divorce secured by either the alien or Filipino spouse, and
  • A marriage nullified by a recognized religious tribunal 

Before the Spaniards colonized the Philippines under a three-century rule, divorce was commonly practiced by traditional tribes, anthropologists said. Things eased slightly when the Americans came and in 1917, divorced was allowed on the basis of adultery if committed by the wife, or for concubinage of the husband (which punished him alongside a mistress). The Japanese attempted to modernize the law during their occupation, but the 1917 law was later restored when U.S. regained power.

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When the Philippines' independence from these colonizers was restored, the church again flexed their influence and divorce was again banned completely. For the longest time, annulment has been the only way out of marriage, but it can only be done if one proves under particular grounds that the marriage was void to begin with. It does not acknowedge common problems that hound failed marriages such as infidelity and emotional and physical abuse. 

Gabriela Women's Party Rep. Arlene Brosas said the bill sought to provide wives an accessible and affordable "escape" from abusive husbands. "It is about time that we offer spouses, especially wives, the added legal option to exit toxic and abusive marital relationships," she said. 

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