Free annulment proposed if absolute divorce bill fails

(PHILSTAR) MANILA, Philippines — Annulment should be made free of charge if the absolute divorce bill faces rough sailing at the Senate, Rep. Janette Garin said yesterday.

“Why don’t they make annulment free of charge? We’re looking at something where both parties will no longer spend money for it,” Garin said.

“Couples who are locked in a toxic relationship would rather suffer in silence, precisely because they have no money,” the House deputy majority leader pointed out.

Seven senators have now expressed opposition to divorce: Senate President Francis Escudero, former Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Majority Leader Francis Tolentino as well as Cynthia Villar, Joel Villanueva and Ronald dela Rosa.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros was the main proponent of the Senate version of the divorce bill. Backers of the measure include Senators Robin Padilla, Grace Poe, Imee Marcos, Pia Cayetano and Raffy Tulfo.

Other senators who had issued statements against divorce were Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, Senators Nancy Binay and Alan Peter Cayetano.

Senators Sonny Angara, Ramon Revilla Jr. and JV Ejercito said they were still thinking about their positions.

Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Bong Go, Lito Lapid and Mark Villar have yet to issue their respective statements on the matter.

The House of Representatives on May 22 approved on third and final reading the absolute divorce bill, voting 131-109 with 20 abstentions.

Garin voted yes to House Bill 9349, which would allow absolute divorce as a legal remedy for irreparably broken marriages.

The bill’s transmittal to the Senate for concurrence is on hold pending questions on how votes were counted, as the House leadership had erroneously reported 126 affirmative votes, later correcting it to 131.

The Philippines, a secular state, is the last country in the world aside from the Vatican that has not legalized divorce.

Senate committee report

Sen. Loren Legarda yesterday expressed openness to legalize divorce after signing the committee report of the Senate version of the divorce bill.

At a press briefing, the former Senate president pro tempore said she signed the committee report on the proposed “Dissolution of Marriage Act” that hurdled the Senate women, children, family relations and gender equality panel last year.

Hontiveros, Poe, Cayetano, Marcos, Tulfo and Padilla and Ejercito also signed the report.

Poe and Cayetano said they signed the report to propose amendments during interpellation at the plenary.

Pimentel also signed the report with the intention to interpellate.

“My signature implies that I want it discussed because it might be the right time for divorce, that it could be a way to help both abused women and men,” Legarda said

“The version of the bill should also be open, acceptable, and accessible to poor families who could not afford a lawyer. Maybe it is time to address the financial and economic cost of divorce,” she added.

Ejercito said he signed the report even though he is still considering his stand. He earlier said he was leaning toward favoring divorce.

Escudero earlier explained that he opposed the House version of divorce as it lacked a provision allowing the Public Attorney’s Office to take on divorce cases for indigent clients.

Against divorce

Zubiri and Villar yesterday reiterated their stance against divorce.

“I am a conservative lawmaker. I am the equivalent of an American Republican, who is pro-family and pro-life. I frown upon any bill that will separate our families,” Zubiri said in an ambush interview at the Senate.

“I don’t want that we would end up with Las Vegas weddings where you can get married overnight and then get separated later,” he said.

Villar said that with her happy marriage to tycoon Manny Villar, she sees no reason to legalize divorce.

“I am surprised at the House move to pass divorce,” Villar said in an ambush interview at a Department of Environment and Natural Resources event.

‘Too liberal’

The House version of divorce is “too liberal” and it needs to be “Filipinized,” Pimental said yesterday over “Storycon” on One News.

Pimentel said he is against a bill that will legalize a “no-cause” divorce, saying grounds such as “irreconcilable differences” and “gravely abusive conduct” are too vague and prone to abuse.

“Let us fix the wording… Let’s Filipinize our remedy to specific Filipino situations. I am okay to look for a remedy (to the proposal),” he added.

“It will be a conscience vote,” he said when asked about Escudero’s position against divorce.

“I do not think that those who supported him will automatically follow (his position on divorce),” he noted.

Ejercito maintained that he would only support divorce if circumstances were extreme.

“I just want to make sure that all the safeguards will be in place to make sure that it will not be that easy,” he said.

“Although we believe in the sacredness of the sacrament of matrimony, I know a lot of people whose marriages are not successful to the extent that one is abused physically and even emotionally. I believe that nobody deserves to be miserable in life,” he added.

Ejercito agreed with Pimentel that they do not want a version of divorce similar to the United States, where petitions are easily granted. —  Marc Jayson Cayabyab, Janvic Mateo