Women’s Groups in the Philippines Push for Divorce Bill

As soon as the divorce bill was filed, it immediately generated a lot of emotional reactions from different sectors, especially the Catholic church. Unable to shy away from the debate on the divorce bill, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III recently declared that he is against divorce but is for legal separation with the option to remarry, which some sectors say is tantamount to divorce.

In the Philippines, which has a predominantly conservative Roman Catholic population, divorce is frowned at in public, although a lot of married couples have been living separately. Couples from wealthy families travel abroad to get divorced and to remarry. The Philippines is only one of two countries that do not have a divorce law yet. Gabriela said Malta, a Mediterranean island, has yet to legislate a divorce bill, too.

Women’s group Gabriela and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) are pushing for the passage of House Bill 1799, “An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines.” Filed recently by GWP Representatives Luzviminda Ilagan and Emmie de Jesus in Congress, they said this would give couples particularly women the option to terminate a marriage that is no longer working, is already beyond saving and already detrimental to their well-being.

“The absence of a law on divorce is a crucible that will help us move forward from the lowest global ranking on this matter, as globally the Philippines remains as one of just two countries that has no divorce law yet,” Ilagan said in a statement.

Between January and May this year, 204 of the 294 cases of violence against women (VAW) reported to Gabriela were cases of domestic violence, Montes said. She said that aside from emotional abandonment, many of these women complained of financial neglect as they are left on their own to eke out a living for the whole family.

“Wife battery is a reality we cannot turn a blind eye to. When a woman is beaten up by her husband, she must have the freedom to leave the marriage; but at present women do not have this option because existing laws on legal separation and annulment miserably fail to address this reality,” explained Montes.

Culturally and traditionally the burden of making the marriage work and keep it intact lie on women, said Gabriela. Women are prescribed by society to sacrifice themselves to save the marriage. “But we would like to remind the state that it is its policy to ensure fundamental equality, before the law, of women and men; and where a woman is confined to a marriage where she only knows suffering, there is nothing of that equality,” Montes said.

This is the reason why GWP actively supports HB 1799; they called on their colleagues in Congress to make the divorce bill a living proof that it is a “progressive and forward-looking House”.

Ilagan said she believes Congress would allow for intelligent and rights-based discourse on the bill as that is consistent with House Speaker Sonny Belmonte’s call for each and every representative to “overcome self-interest to raise Filipinos and the Philippines to a proud stature in the global ranking of nations”.

The Philippines is a conservative country that thinks a divorce law will only create more broken families because a couple with problems could easily opt for divorce. Some believe that if the divorce bill is passed it will make a mockery of marriage.

Rep. De Jesus stressed that in other Catholic countries like Spain and Italy where a divorce law is in force, it did not necessarily resulted in an increase in divorce cases filed in court.

De Jesus added that as early as on the first week after the divorce bill was filed and tackled by media, some sectors are already forwarding biased and unfounded fears. She said Gabriela has counselled a lot of married women who have been abused or battered, but who considered leaving their husbands only after years and years of repetitive and cyclical battering.

“A couple who is in a happy or satisfactory marital relationship would definitely not seek divorce just because it is legal. It is not easy to build a quality marital relationship. We at Gabriela would be the first to advice couples to work more on their relationship as this redounds to their holistic well being and promotion of the rights of both partners in the relationship,” she said.

Part of a longer article at http://www.bulatlat.com/main/2010/08/21/women%e2%80%99s-groups-push-for-divorce-bill/


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