Is Predominantly Catholic Philippines Ready for Divorce?

At a time when the Philippine culture is showing and allowing openness to more liberal concepts and lifestyles that are tagged as the “new normal,” there appears to be a persistent aversion to divorce from the majority of the population, primarily members of the Catholic and Christian faith.

This aversion to the recently-passed Divorce Bill by the Lower House of Congress has been spearheaded by no less than the members of the Upper chamber, the Senate.

Senator Joel Villanueva, son of pastor and evangelist Eddie Villanueva of the Jesus is Lord congregation, said he will allow the passage of the bill “over his dead body.”

“My name will not be as such if I allow this bill to be approved here at the Senate,” he said. He was quick to add that he is willing to look at the measure objectively and let it go through the regular legislative mill. 

Being a preacher's son, Villanueva couldn't help but stress the sacredness of marriage as he quoted the Bible verse, which says “what God has joined together let no man put asunder,” found in the book of Mark (10:9)

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who was once the country's chief police officer, shares Villanueva's view of the sanctity of marriage and readily said he will not support its passage.

“I’m willing to see the salient features of the House bill and whatever bill might be filed in the Senate though. My primary concern is the sanctity of marriage. Needless to say, I don’t want marriage and separation to be a ‘dime a dozen’ affair,” the senator said.

Other senators have expressed early opposition to the divorce bill including Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III (married to renowned actress and born again Christian, Helen Gamboa), Senator Francis Escudero, and Senator Sherwin Gatchalian - who said he does not want an “American-inspired drive through divorce system.”

The Catholic church is not taking the issue lightly either.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines officials aired their disappointment over the House of Representatives approval of the measure.

Fr. Jerome Secillano, the organization's executive secretary to its permanent committee on public affairs, took to social media to criticize the latest development, maintaining that divorce is “anti-marriage and anti-family.”

“By passing this measure, Congress betrays its mandate to protect our country’s legally and morally declared social and inviolable institutions!” Secillano posted on his Facebook account.

He stressed that lawmakers should protect rights and strengthen the institution of marriage.

“The Catholic Church is all for the protection of rights especially of the aggrieved parties in marriage. But protection of rights should go hand in hand with upholding our cherished institutions such as marriage,” he said.

Secillano added: “While divorce may indeed vindicate the rights of women, as congressmen believed, it's, unfortunately, to the detriment of marriage and family as sacred institutions that should otherwise be protected by the State.”

The CBCP was not the only one who took to social media the disgust over the divorce bill.

A lady netizen, Eunice Bennett, called on the public to vehemently oppose it, especially that families of overseas Filino workers can be among those which can be affected by the legislation, if passed into law. This is because the bill provides, among others, granting divorce to spouses who have been separated for around five years. And some OFWs may be construed to have been separated this long or can actually be away from each other this long or even longer, because of their job contracts abroad.

She also lamented that the bill is being “shoved hard to the Filipinos” by politicians, with specific mention of House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, whom she accused of having a conflict of interest because of his “promiscuity and sexual happiness.”

Bennett's strongly-worded stand on the issue has gone viral, especially among Christian circles.

The Philippines is the only country in the world outside of the Vatican where divorce is not allowed.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution stresses that the State “recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.”