Breaking chains


By Herman M. Lagon

The House of Representatives’ recent passage of the Absolute Divorce Bill (House Bill 9349) on second reading has reignited the national divorce discussion. This critical milestone, reached by voice voting in a plenary session, moves the nation closer to giving couples stuck in unworkable marriages a legal option. My two-part series from October of last year, “Rethinking Forever in the Philippines” and “Untying the Knot—the Divorce Debate Continues,” which set the foundation for understanding the intricacies and demands of divorce in our society, came to mind as I dug deeper into this subject.

The Philippines, along with the Vatican, stands as a unique exception in the world, where divorce remains prohibited. This legislative stance, increasingly out of step with the realities of modern life, is deeply rooted in conservative and religious traditions. To address this, House Bill 9349 proposes a more streamlined and compassionate process for ending marriages that are beyond repair.

The foundation of the case for legalizing divorce is the idea of personal freedom and human rights. Every person needs to be granted the independence to make important life decisions, such as the freedom to end a marriage that is not beneficial to them. Respecting one’s agency and dignity is essential to maintaining one’s freedom and is consistent with contemporary human rights norms.

Moreover, divorce is a crucial safety net for those trapped in abusive or harmful relationships. The current legal framework often fails to protect individuals suffering in silence. Legalizing divorce offers a pathway to safety and a fresh start, potentially reducing the societal costs associated with domestic violence and mental health issues. This legal provision is essential for the spouses and their children, who are often the silent victims of such tumultuous environments.

The welfare of children is a significant concern in discussions about divorce. While some argue that children fare better in intact families, research suggests that a peaceful, stable environment is far more beneficial than one filled with constant conflict. When handled properly, divorce can protect kids from continuing conflict in the marriage and give them a loving atmosphere to develop and flourish.

From a cultural standpoint, it is critical to accept that not all marriages work out and to offer a respectful method of handling these circumstances. Legalizing divorce will improve social health by reducing the number of domestic abuse cases and stress-related illnesses, which will increase productivity and happiness among the populace.

Justice and fairness on an ethical level are equally crucial in this discussion. Divorce laws guarantee that every male or female citizen has an equal chance to pursue happiness and personal development. Because of their economic reliance and social expectations, women have historically been more susceptible to abusive marriages; therefore, this is especially powerful for them. Permitting divorce can result in increased financial autonomy and progress, enabling people to follow their professional and educational objectives.

Values and expectations around relationships and family structures change as societies develop. Legalizing divorce makes sense since it reflects modern values and guarantees that the law is fair and applicable. This shift in social norms emphasizes how important it is for our nation to modernize its legal system to reflect the reality of contemporary living.

Even with these convincing justifications, there is still much resistance to the divorce measure, especially from conservative and religious organizations. Our nation’s profoundly ingrained religious traditions significantly impact legislative decisions and public opinion. Many people consider marriage a sacred commitment that lasts a lifetime, affecting their opposition to divorce. But it is important to remember that, even in the Catholic religion, divorce and annulment are permitted, acknowledging that not all marriages are intended to last.

“Who does the Absolute Divorce Act protect and who does it jeopardize?” was a poignant question posed by Carl Martin Agustin in his piece published in the Inquirer Lifestyle section last week. The bill offers women and children a way out of violent and dysfunctional marriages, with the primary goal being their protection. It recognizes that in order to handle the difficulties and complexities of contemporary relationships, a legal solution is required. However, traditionalist organizations worry that allowing divorce will threaten the institution of marriage and result in moral degradation.

Interestingly, divorce was not always an alien concept in the Philippines. During the American occupation, Act No. 2710 allowed for divorce, which was later removed with the introduction of Republic Act No. 386 (Civil Code) and Executive Order No. 209 (Family Code). Today, non-Muslim Filipinos are the only ones denied access to divorce, highlighting a legal inconsistency that warrants reexamination.

The existing annulment and legal separation options need to be revised. Annulments are costly and time-consuming, accessible mainly to the wealthy, while legal separation only allows couples to live apart without dissolving the marital bond. Divorce, on the other hand, terminates a valid marriage, offering a broader range of grounds and a more straightforward process for those in need.

As we navigate this complex issue, fostering a respectful, open dialogue that considers all perspectives is crucial. Legalizing divorce is not about promoting instability but providing a rational and compassionate solution for couples in irreparable marriages. It recognizes the limitations of human endurance and the need for a fresh start, ultimately contributing to a more humane society.

The proposed Absolute Divorce Bill represents a significant step forward in addressing the realities of modern relationships. It is a testament to our society’s evolving values, balancing the need for personal freedom, protection from harm, and the pursuit of happiness. As the bill moves forward in Congress, it is essential to remember these considerations, ensuring that the law reflects what is fair, sound, and just.

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