Philippine lawmakers pledge to block proposed divorce law

Manila, Philippines — Lawmakers said a proposed law to legalize divorce in the Philippines would face stiff opposition in Congress despite growing public support for the measure.

"The proposal to legalize divorce will not pass under my watch," said House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., reported the Asian Catholic news portal ucanews.com.

Marriage "should be saved and should guarantee the proper guidance of children," he said.

Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, deputy speaker, said there was little support for the measure among legislators.

"[The law] will shred the fabric of our society and will encourage flippant marriages," she said.

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The proposed law was introduced in 2014 by the Gabriela Women's Party to help resolve the issue of irreconcilable separations.

Divorce was legal in the Philippines and widely practiced, especially among tribal communities until 1950, when the new Civil Code prohibiting it was adopted.

However, legal separations, in which spouses live apart but cannot remarry, are permissible under the code, as are annulments.

The Philippines is the only country, aside from the Vatican, that does not allow divorce.

Despite the strong influence of the church in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, a recent survey shows strong and growing support for legalizing divorce.

The survey conducted by the polling group Social Weather Stations and released Monday found that at least 60 percent want divorce to be legalized.

Most respondents agreed that "married couples who have already separated and cannot reconcile anymore should be allowed to divorce so that they can get legally married again," according to the survey. Twenty-nine percent of respondents disagreed, while 11 percent were undecided on the issue.

SWS said that 62 percent of men and 57 percent of women who responded supported legalizing divorce -- up from 52 percent among males and 49 percent among females in a similar survey in 2011.

Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, president of the Philippine Constitution Association, said marriage was a contract that "should be respected."

"It's better to keep, and care for it, and not allow an easy way out on this obligation," he said.

Romualdez said that to revive the divorce debate "will not look good" after the Philippines passed the controversial Reproductive Health law less than three years ago.

The passage of the law, which allows the use of artificial contraception, defeated a strong lobby launched by Catholic leaders and organizations.

"The church has taken a beating already, and it's a little bit ironic that we push this," Romualdez said. "Legalizing divorce is a little bit too much."

Catholic leaders said that despite the strong sentiments of the people to legalize divorce, the church would never change its position.

Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, retired archbishop of Manila, said "even if 99 percent [support legalized divorce], what is wrong is wrong," he said.

Rep. Emmi de Jesus, a member of the Gabriela Women's Party, said she would work to schedule a debate on the bill when Congress returns in April from its Lenten recess.


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