Philippines, the only country in the world with no divorce

     Citizens of the Catholic Mediterranean state of Malta have voted in favor of legalizing divorce, announced Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzo on Sunday, May 29. Malta is the only other country apart from the Philippines that bans divorce. It is also the last European country where divorce is considered illegal.
     On Saturday, 306,000 of mostly Catholic voters were asked in a non-binding referendum whether the parliament should introduce a divorce law after four years of separation. Legal separation, though widespread in Europe, presents many challenges in re-marrying, reports the article.
     Gonzi, who campaigned against divorce, said, "This is not the result I wished for, but the will of the people has to be respected and the parliament should enact a law for the introduction of divorce." He added it was now up to the parliament to legalize the dissolution of marriage.
     Pro-divorce leader of the opposition Labor party, Joseph Muscat said in The Guardian that a New Malta had been born. According to the article, Muscat is confident that the anti-divorce law would not thwart the will of the people. The Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile, did not participate in Malta's referendum. However, Malta Archbishop Paul Cremona warned churchgoers that their decision was a choice between building and destroying family values.
     The leader of the "Yes" movement, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, of the governing Nationalist Party, said the result was significant.
     "It brings Malta into a new era where the state and the Church are separate," Mr Orlando is quoted as saying by Efe news agency.
     Chile was the last country to legalise divorce in 2004 after overwhelming public pressure.
     Previously, couples could apply for a legal separation through the courts, or seek a Church annulment - a complex process that can take up to nine years.
    A third option was to get divorced abroad - and that would then be valid in Malta.
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What is the status of the proposed divorce bill in the Philippines?

     A controversial bill to legalize divorces in the Philippines has stirred controversy among congress members in the archipelago.
     The bill, House Bill No. 1799, also known as “An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines” was filed by Congresswomen Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana De Jesus on July 27, 2010.  Both congresswomen are members of the political party group Gabriela Women’s Party, which focuses on advancing women’s rights in the Philippines.
     Currently, it is illegal to obtain a divorce in the Philippines.  An annulment or legal separation is recognized by the government, according to the Family Code, executive order number 209, signed July 26, 1987.
     “Reality tells us that there are many failed, unhappy marriages across all Filipino classes,” wrote the two congresswomen in HB 1799’s explanatory note.
     “In the Filipino culture, marriage is regarded as a sacred union, and the family founded on marriage is considered as a fount of love, protection and care. Philippine society generally frowns upon and discourages marital break-ups and so provides cultural and legal safeguards to preserve marital relations. Cultural prescriptions and religious norms keep many couples together despite the breakdown of the marriage,” the bill added.
     Walden Bello, a member of the House of Representatives, publicly supports the proposed divorce bill.  “Let’s join the 20th century,” said Bello.
     The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, where marriage is highly revered and divorce is not an option.  Congressman Ben Evardone has publicly opposed the bill.  “We must continue to work for the preservation of the sanctity of marriage and the family,” said Evardone.   ”Legalizing divorce might encourage or promote destruction of families.”
     “With the predominance of the Catholic faith in the Philippines, the fear that divorce will erode personal values on marriage appears unfounded,” stated congresswomen Ilagan and De Jesus.
     “This bill is being introduced based on indications that Philippine society is ready for the legalization of divorce.  The sanctity of marriage is not based on the number of marriages existing but on the quality of marital relationships,” they added.
    According to the Family Code, a marriage may be annulled for various reasons, such as if a bride or groom was married without the consent of their parents and is under 21 years old.  Other factors include that the marriage was forced and not voluntary or if either spouse had an “incurable” sexual transmitted disease.
    A legal separation may be granted if there was physical abuse in the relationship, drug or alcohol abuse, homosexuality or infidelity among other factors, according to the Family Code.
     But according to Atty. Alnie Foja, legal counsel of militant women's party-list Gabriela, this remedy isn't enough. For one, she said annulment doesn't recognize the problems and struggles that spouses go through during their marriage.
     Gabriela has tried to file the Divorce Bill in Congress twice, and failed. But they're not losing hope.
In the said bill, there are 5 grounds for the termination of marriage -- if the spouses are already separated de facto (in practice, but not necessarily ordained by law) for 5 years and reconciliation is highly improbable; if the spouses are already legally separated for 2 years; if the marriage is no longer working; if one or both spouses have psychological incapacity; or if spouses have irreconcilable differences resulting to irreparable breakdown of the marriage.
    Foja said the group will continue to fight so Filipinos, particularly abused wives, will have more options should they want to end a bad marriage.
    Gabriela may have the best intentions, but is the Philippines, particularly Congress, ready to embrace the reality that not all marriages are meant to last?
     Not Buhay party-list Rep. Irwin Tieng, who believes that the "sanctity of marriage and family should always be protected." According to him, divorce will only serve as a feasible exit strategy for spouses when things go awry in a marriage, discouraging them from trying to make the relationship work.
     "Kaya hindi kami sang-ayon dito kasi kapag may divorce, parang papasok na lang ang tao sa isang bagay tapos kapag ayaw, lalabas na lang," he said.
     Tieng was particularly referring to some cases in the United States, where some celebrities would get married and get divorced the next day.
    If divorce were to be legalized in the country, he fears that people will become more irresponsible in making important decisions such as choosing a partner for marriage.
    "Marami namang ibang paraan na hindi divorce. Pwedeng bago tayo ikasal, alamin muna natin ang ating partner, mag-attend tayo ng seminars at counseling bago tayo pumasok sa isang bagay na napakasagrado," he explained.
     Moreover, Tieng said that a broken family will only negatively affect the kids psychologically. "Iba ang upbringing nila, pati pananaw nila. Let's maintain the sanctity of family," he said.
     Asked if the Divorce Bill is likely to get support from Congress, Tieng said, "Maliit ang chance."
     Foja, for her part, stressed that contrary to what most people think, pushing for the legalization of divorce in the country doesn't equate to a lack of respect for the sanctity of marriage.
     According to her, there are just some relationships that can no longer be fixed, such as those that involve wife-battering.
     "May mga malinaw kaming batayan. Hindi naman namin ito kinuha lang dahil gusto lang namin ng divorce.  May mga kababaihan sa buong bansa na nararamdaman nila na naghahangad sila ng dagdag na option para mapawalang-bisa ang kanilang kasal," she said.
     She added, "Darating talaga minsan sa point na hindi na talaga kaya maiayos 'yung marriage, whether it be after 2 years, 2 decades or 40 years."
     Foja also assured Tieng and the rest of the public that ending marriages won't be as casual as changing clothes -- each step will be properly guided by law, she said.
     "Itong batas namin ay hindi 'no fault' divorce. Ito ay susuriin ng husgado kung talaga bang wala nang pag-asa na makipagbalikan. Mag-eexert muna ng effort ang husgado na magkabalikan sila," she explained.
She believes that spouses should be given a chance to learn from their mistakes, move on and grow, rather than be stuck in a marriage that only causes pain and suffering.
     "Kung talagang sagad na at kailangan na dahil may mga nangyari during the marriage, kailangan ng option -- babae man o lalaki -- na umalis sa kasal na ito para maging buo ulit ang kanyang pagkatao," she said.
 Sources: News Desk Official Website, ABS-CBNnews.com, BBC.com and ABS-CBN News via Yahoo Philippines News
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FULL TEXT and Explanatory Note: House Bill No. 1799, An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines (4.85 MB, PDF)

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