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House body to tackle divorce bill today

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The committee on revision of laws at the House of Representatives will begin today the preliminary deliberations on a measure seeking to legalize divorce in the Philippines, days after the Mediterranean country of Malta approved divorce via a referendum vote.

With the introduction of divorce in Malta, the Philippines remains to be the only Roman Catholic country outside the Vatican without a divorce legislation.

House Bill No. 1799 or "An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines," was filed by Gabriela party-list Reps. Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus, which allows divorce to married couples with "irreparable marriages" another legal remedy that they can resort to in addition to the country’s existing laws on legal separation and annulment.

The authors said a divorce law could help put an end to domestic violence prevalent among many married Filipino couples.

"Let us not keep our country in the dark ages. I appeal to my colleagues in Congress to let the legislative mill run its course on the Divorce bill without further delay and give Filipino couples in irreparable and unhappy marriages this option," said Ilagan.

She said it is "high time" for the House to start the legislative process on the measure after the Mediterranean country of Malta approved divorce via a referendum vote on Sunday (Manila time).

"Tayo na lang ang naiiwan... Marami naman talagang nabubugbog na babae. Kapag iniiwanan ng asawa, babae ang kawawa. We need to start discussions on this bill," she said

The two party-list legislators found an ally on Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who said he favors the divorce bill, arguing against the senselessness of forcing parties to stay in unions where relations have so irreparably broken down and where a continuation of the union injures one or both parties.

"Let me just say that I myself is in favor of the bill. It is very difficult to let the people who cannot continue to live together do so. There are lots of social problems involved here," said Belmonte in a chance interview with media.

He, however, noted that even as divorced couples, they can still "nurture" their children even when they are living separately.

Belmonte said that the Divorce bill should be considered by Congress since annulment "is working in the country."

"Parang divorce na rin eh, di ba? Isa pa, annulment really leaves a puzzle on the status of children. Some of them have grown up and families of their own for some reason nag-anulled ang kanilang parents," he said.

For his part, House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said Congress is a good venue for discussions to settle the debate on the Divorce bill.

"If we allow the annulment of marriage under the abused ground of psychological incapacity, we should also allow the divorce," said Gonzales in a text message.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares also agrees that the country needs a divorce law, but predicts a "tough battle" because of the "power of the Catholic church."

"So now we go for the next best thing so that abusive marriages can be terminated and this is (by) making annulment more accessible to the poor," he said.

On the other hand, Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez, just as he was opposed to the Reproductive Health bill, said he is not in favor of the Divorce bill, but wants debates to start in Congress.

Authors on the Divorce bill cited five grounds for the filing of a petition -- petitioner has been separated de facto (in fact) from his or her spouse for at least five years at the time of the filing of the petition and reconciliation is highly improbable; petitioner has been legally separated from his or her spouse for at least two years at the time of the filing of the petition and reconciliation is highly improbable; when the spouses suffer from irreconcilable differences that have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage; when one or both spouses are psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations; and any of the grounds for legal separation that has caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.

"We cannot ignore the fact that existing laws just do not suffice. Getting an annulment can be very expensive while legal separation will not give estranged couples the right to remarry," said Ilagan.

Official figures from the Philippine National Police in 2009 showed that 19 women fall victims to marital violence every day. Among the forms of violence and abuse against women committed in 2009, wife battery ranked the highest at 6,783 or 72 percent. (Lilybeth G. Ison-PNA)




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