Divorce bills 101

The time for the re-enactment of a divorce law has come. I say reenactment because many do not know that divorce is not new here despite the fact that now, the Philippines is the only country in the whole world that does not have such a national law.

Before Magellan “discovered” the Philippines, divorce-like practices were recognized by our ancestors. Some of the known communities that practiced these were the Tagbanwas of Palawan; Gadang of Nueva Vizcaya; Igorots of the Cordilleras; and the Manobos, Bila-an, and Muslims of Visayas and Mindanao. Spain scrapped these practices and replaced them with “Siete Partidas” or legal separation which does not dissolve the marriage.

In 1917, the Americans replaced Siete Partidas with Act 2710, or the divorce law that had two (2) grounds, adultery on the woman’s part and concubinage on the man’s. During the Japanese occupation, Act 1917 was replaced by Executive Order (EO) No. 141 that had ten (10) grounds through which one could divorce a spouse. After defeating the Japanese, the US reinstated Act 2710. Nonetheless, divorce was still legal.

This was implemented until 1950 when it was invalidated by the Civil Code of the Philippines which brought the country back to Spanish-era policy of legal separation. The present Family Code added declaration of nullity of marriage and annulment to legal separation. Thus, presently, we do not have a national divorce law.

This does not mean, however, that there is no divorce in the country. Divorce among Muslims is valid and recognized by our laws. Also, some of our indigenous peoples still have divorce-like practices. Therefore, there is still divorce here but not for all Filipinos.

Bills on divorce have been filed from as early as the Eleventh Congress but these never moved even at the committee level. For this Congress, several bills are now lodged with the House of Representatives (HOR) Committee on Population and Family Relations chaired by Laguna Representative Sol Aragones. To date, four public hearings have already been called by the Committee, two outside of the country, involving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Hong Kong and Japan, and two recent ones, last November 27 and 29, at the House of Representatives involving civil society organizations (CSOs) and government agencies. It would appear that there is political will in passing a divorce bill at least in the House.

There are seven (7) divorce-related bills that are under consideration by the Committee. These are: House Bill No. 116, “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce in the Philippines and for Other Purposes”; HBN 1062, “An Act Amending Title I, Chapter 3, of Executive Order No. 209 Otherwise Known as the Family Code of the Philippines, Prescribing additional Ground for Annulment”; HBN 1629, “An Act Legalizing Church Annulment or Dissolution of Certain Marriages and for Other Purposes”; HBN 2380, “An Act Introducing Divorce in the Philippines Amending for the Purpose Articles 26, 55 to 66 and Repealing Article 36 Under Title II of Executive Order No. 209, as Amended, Otherwise Known as the Family Code of the Philippines, and for Other Purposes”; HBN 3705, “An Act Recognizing the Civil Effects of Church Declaration of Nullity, Annulment, and Dissolution of Marriages and for Other Purposes”; HBN 6227, “An Act Providing for Grounds for the Dissolution of Marriage”; and HBN 6446, “An Act Recognizing the Capacity of the Filipino Spouse to Remarry When the Alien Spouse has Obtained a Foreign Judicial Decree of Absolute Divorce, Amending for the Purpose Executive Order No. 209, Otherwise Known as the Family Code of the Philippines.”

Of the seven, four (4) are about divorce, HBNs 116, 2380, 6027, and 6446. One, HBN 1962 proposes to add de facto separation for at least five (5) years as a ground for annulment; and two (2), HBNs 1629 and 3705 seek to recognize as legal church annulment and declaration of nullity.

Of the four divorce bills, one, HBN 6446 filed by Rep. Pia Cayetano seeks to make legal here divorces acquired by foreign spouses in other countries, thus, granting the Filipino spouse the right to remarry.

Of the three (3) remaining bills, HBNs 116 (Edcel Lagman); 2380 (Gabriela); and 6446 (Teddy Brawner Baguilat, Pantaleon Alvarez, etc.) the first two are similar as they both adopt grounds for legal separation and annulment as also grounds for divorce. The main difference lies in the additional grounds that the authors put in. The Lagman bill has added divorce acquired outside of the Philippines; canonical divorce or Catholic declaration of nullity of marriage; undergoing gender reassignment surgery; and irreconcilable differences as grounds for divorce. On the other hand, Gabriela’s has similar additional grounds but has also included “de facto separation from spouse for at least five years” as another.

The last bill, HBN 6027 is the no-fault divorce bill filed in the House. This bill says that “A marriage may be dissolved based on irreconcilable differences, or severe and chronic unhappiness of the spouses which shall have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.” The bill also allows for the filing by the spouses a joint petition for divorce. This means that both parties agree to the divorce and there should not be any need to prove abuse or neglect on the part of any of the spouses.

These bills are in the House of Representatives and according to Committee insiders, the passage of a divorce law is one of their priorities. This is good news. However, we need for the Senate to also act on divorce and we hope that progressive senators will file their bills and also process these expeditiously.

After the long wait, the country may be at the verge of again having a divorce law.

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Topics: Divorce bills 101 , divorce law
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