[OPINION | Dash of SAS] The Divorce Bill: Legislating love, sex and marriage

To some legislators, the Divorce Bill is like a red flag to a raging bull.

They come charging at it with impassioned counter arguments: 

 “Over my dead body.” Senator Joel Villanueva, son of born again Christian group leader charged with misuse of P10M of Priority Development Authority Funds (PDAF).

 Well, given how long annulment proceedings take, death can come faster. 

"Ok to divorce but not unli,” said noob Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa who is heading the Senate panel probing the drug war that he led as former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.

But even unli-load lasts for only 3 days. Then you have to load up again. 

“Ok to divorce, but you cannot remarry,” according to Senator Ping Lacson.

That option already exists. It’s called legal separation. Under legal separation, you can legally separate everything – your bed, your finances--but you cannot marry again.

“It’s not the right time for us to have divorce. I think we will have a hard time because we are a predominantly Catholic country,” said Senator Cynthia Villar, real estate magnate and author of the recently passed Rice Tarification Law that has reportedly led to the influx of cheaper imported rice and the closure of thousands of local rice mills who could not compete. Villar is currently the head of the Senate Committee on Agrarian Reform and Agriculture & Food.

We already have divorce. Under the Code of Muslim Personal Laws, Muslim Filipinos can divorce. Our ancestors like the Tagbanua in Palawan, the Gaddang in Nueva Vizcaya and the Cordillerans all practiced divorce before the Spanish came and changed the rules. Various permutations of divorce were allowed under the American Period and the Japanese Occupation until the Civil Code was passed in 1950 and again outlawed divorce. To date, the Philippines is the only country in the world without divorce. Divorce is also outlawed in The Vatican City State but its residents are mostly men who vowed to celibacy so that doesn’t really count.

“Hindi ako pabor sa divorce kasi (I am not in favor of divorce because) I’m a Christian. What God joined together, let no one separate,” said bible quoting Senator Manny Pacquaio. The boxing world champion also claimed that he is a marriage counselor.

All of these counter agreements to divorce are premised on personal opinion or some baseless prediction that if a divorce law is passed, those with repressed heartbreak will finally be able to move on and do the unthinkable: trade in their Netflix binge watch weekends for a marrying-divorcing-re-marrying-divorcing spree to possibly to make up for all those years when they were imprisoned in failed marriages.

Some of the rationale is punitive.

“You err once, you make amends; you err twice, you deserve to suffer,” Lacson said on Twitter. The former PNP Chief Superintendent, who was among those cleared of murder charges in the Kuratong Baleleng rubout in 2012, said that divorce should only be “once in a lifetime”. Lacson plans to introduce an amendment to the Divorce Bill that will prohibit the spouse who filed for divorce from remarrying, but the one who did not file may do so.

Lacson hinted at a change of heart when he later tweeted: “Apropos my tweet on divorce, legislation is enhanced by listening to people, sensible or not. Even nonsense sometimes makes sense. When the measure us put to a vote, it is important that we are well-informed and guided.” 

The social media backlash may have helped in his illumination.

As different versions of the Divorce Bill have been re-filed at the lower and upper House this 18th Congress, we can expect the discussions to become even more heated. 

In the aid of legislation, how about elevating the discourse and discussing the legal basis for a Divorce Law and how simplifying the process of dissolving marriages would greatly reduce corruption? 

In 2015, Rappler published an investigative report series called, “The Business of Annulment” which exposed the rampant corruption in the judiciary. Courts functioned as annulment mills and churned out annulment decisions in wholesale quantities. Stenographers copy pasted old annulment decisions and changed only the names of the couple. To cope with the quantity, stenographers in one court reportedly resorted to making up the personal testimonies of the complainants, drawing inspiration from telenovelas. Con artists posed as lawyers and scammed people out of hundreds of thousands of pesos by giving them fake annulment decisions. Municipal officers doubled as “fixers” promising that they knew someone “on the inside” who could cut down the annulment process from the usual minimum 3 to 4 years to 6 months. One room in the Philippine Statistics Office (PSA) is stacked high with annulment decisions--all fake. 

In one particularly ludicrous case, a friend of mine filed for annulment from his estranged wife only to find out that she had secured one years ago from a court in a remote province that he had to Google to locate. She never bothered to tell him about this small detail until he told her of his plans to file for annulment.

The current annulment process breeds corruption in the already problematic and case-loaded judicial system. Its legal provisions defy logic and common sense. For example: 

To be clear, legalizing divorce does not excuse the government from going into the bigger fixes for corruption like the automation of certain processes but if the State is serious about eliminating any whiff of corruption, legalizing divorce is a crucial first step.

It is the judicial system infested with corruption and bribery that make a mockery of the institution of marriage--not the two people who once vowed to love each other till death do them part but failed.

 ffering a humane and respectful way of dissolving a marriage honors the happy loving years that a couple spent together while acknowledging the reality that the union is no longer tenable. A simplified and realistic way to dissolve marriages through a Divorce Law that adequately reflects life’s realities that lead to failed marriages makes the heartache easier to bear for the couple and their children.

Divorce is the just way to legislate love, sex and marriage. Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos is Rappler’s gender and sexuality columnist. She is the 2014 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Miel Fellow and a 2018 Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity. Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos.