Mar. 20, 2006
If you think divorce will further the cause of women’s liberation in the Philippines, think again. Legalizing divorce is basically anti-women and will aggravate the problem of violence against women.
The call for women’s equality becomes louder these days as March has traditionally been designated International Women’s Month. It is ironic, though, that during this time when womanhood is being celebrated worldwide, a legislative measure in the Philippine House of Representatives presumably aimed at improving the lot of women by its author will do just the opposite if it is enacted into law.
House Bill 4016, also known as the divorce bill and introduced by feminist partylist Rep. Liza Maza, seeks to amend portions of the Family Code of the Philippines so as to make divorce legal in the country. The bill is currently pending with the Committee on Revision of Laws.
Jose Descallar, Pro-Life Philippines’ lobby and advocacy officer, says the bill which may be initially perceived as a pro-women measure, will actually make life even harder for women.
“Divorce is more anti-women. Think about it – who gets custody of the child of separated parents most of the time? The woman, because man is perceived as a philanderer, or an unsuitable parent for other possible reasons,” he says. “This leaves the responsibilities of rearing and nurturing the children to the woman. So with divorce, the man can engage in his philandering over and over. He can get a divorce, get married again, then go for divorce again, and just keep doing this – he can victimize more women.”
Descallar explains that Pro-Life chooses not to support the legalization of divorce because it doesn’t give solutions to the problem of troubled marriages. In fact, it creates more problems – for women and the children. The worst victims of divorce, he points out, are the children.
“Generally instead of strengthening the institution of marriage, the option of legal divorce will weaken it. Based on the experience of the United States, out of every 10 marriages, more
than half end in divorce. If there’s always the ready option to get out, instead of working to strengthen the marriage and to solve problems, and trying to understand your spouse, there’s an easy way out It’s kind of an ‘escape hatch’,” he says.
Furthermore, the definition of “irreconcilable differences” is nowhere in HB 4016. With plenty of room for disagreement in any marriage, stating “irreconcilable differences” as one of the grounds for divorce with no clear definition of the term may make even simple marital spats legitimate reasons for going separate ways.
Consequently, instead of being worked out, situations such as conflicting bathroom habits or bouts of petty jealousy become situations that – instead of being worked out – may eventually be treated as legitimate reasons for divorce.
This opposition to HB 4016 may be viewed by divorce advocates as shutting the door on workable choices for women in troubled marriages. Descallar disagrees.
“There’s the option of legal separation which has the spouses living in separate domiciles. This is very significant in cases where there is physical abuse – the woman is protected from abuse,” he explains. “Also, legal separation doesn’t dissolve the marriage even if the two live separately, so the husband continues to be bound by his financial responsibilities as a father. The wife still has a legal right to ‘sustento’ (financial support).”
“Introducing divorce in our country is imposing a foreign concept of family values instead of nurturing the positive points of our Filipino values, among which is being a family-centered society. Divorce is a western individualistic family value that will eventually destroy our families and our society.”
One congressional proposal that Pro-Life supports is House Bill 216 penned by Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon, which aims to provide mandatory counseling from priests, pastors and imams for spiritual and values re-education as a means for preparing the couple before getting married.
“It’s a preventive measure, and the basic premise is that marriage is a very serious business. It’s not a bed of roses so people need to prepare for it. But this kind of preparation is not the kind that City Hall normally provides, which centers on the how-to’s of birth control,” Descallar points out.
“Values education and spiritual preparation are rooted in the concept of personhood, which is crucial before entering married life. This understanding of personhood will greatly diminish the causes of conflict in marriage. Now House Bill 216 requires couples to undergo counseling prior to the issuance of a marriage license.”