THIS piece will strike some readers as inconsistent with the earlier position I took on the consequences of the sexual behavior of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and President Rodrigo Duterte, which in a nutshell constituted a defense of marriage as an institution.
This Lent, I am convinced, is a good time for the nation to reflect seriously on the status of marriage in our society, and the practicality and wisdom of keeping the Philippines one of only two states in the world — along with the Vatican — that still forbids the divorce of married couples under its laws.
Living proof of marital mortality
In a striking and telling irony, the exposure of the Speaker’s and the President’s serial adultery and chauvinist behavior towards women is fueling a serious effort to galvanize advocacy and debate of the legislative bill for the legalization of divorce. This time, I predict that the discussion will go beyond just the position of the Catholic Church on the issue. This time, discussion will be searching and profound, and it will not stop until we have found an availing answer to the social problem of relationships and marriages that fail.
As if to show how bizarre our country has become, female legislators are pouncing on the indiscretions and infidelities of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, not to extol the importance of marriage and marital commitment, but to persuade him to support a legislative bill in the Congress for the legalization of divorce in the country. They consider the frailties of Alvarez, as well as those of President Duterte, as a signal opportunity to demand that they support passage of a divorce law.
They would paradoxically turn the failed partners of marriages into the instrument to destroy marriage as an institution, since they are living proof of the mortality of marital union.
This is only slightly more bizarre than the spectacle of two top officials of the republic publicly boasting about their having girlfriends aside from their wives and children by different women.
Gabriela divorce bill
Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas declared last Monday, April 3, that it is time for Congress to pass a divorce law following the revelation of Speaker Alvarez that he has a girlfriend outside marriage, and that he has fathered eight children, six of them by women other than his wife.
Gabriela, which is part of the seven-member Makabayan bloc, is aligned with Speaker Alvarez in his supermajority coalition in the House.
During the “Ugnayan sa Batasan” forum at the House, Brosas said that with the cat out of the bag, Alvarez should now include in his legislative agenda her bill proposing to legalize divorce in the country.
She underscored the fact that the Philippines and the Vatican are now the only states in the world wherein divorce is prohibited.
Conditions for divorce
Under Brosas’ House Bill 2380, a couple may enter into divorce if at least one of the following conditions is met:
1.The petitioner has been separated de facto from his or her spouse for at least 5 years at the time of the filing of the petition and reconciliation is highly improbable;
2. The petitioner has been legally separated from the spouse for at least 2 years at the time of the filing and reconciliation is highly improbable.
3.When any of the grounds for legal separation has caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage;
4. When one or both spouses are psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations;
5. When the spouses suffer from irreconcilable differences that have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.
A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey in 2014 found three of five Filipinos surveyed favoring divorce.
Brosas says that the existing legal remedies, such as legal separation and annulment of marriage, constitute a tedious and costly process, which would even require the services of a psychologist. Divorce, in contrast, would serve as a quick-fix solution for estranged couples, as it is now in most countries.
Despite the opportunistic appeal to Alvarez, Gabriela, ever the militant group, slammed the speaker for “flaunting” his affairs as if having an extramarital affair is “ordinary and acceptable.”
The Brosas bill has found support from an administration congressman, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, who concurs that it is time for the country to allow couples with irreconcilable differences to have a legal remedy to separate.
Public consequences of private life
After further reflection, reading and research on the issue of how private life impinges on public life, I am now inclined to revise my original stand on the issue of the sexual behavior of public officials.
I do so for the following reasons:
First, I have found reason to be skeptical that by drawing a red line in our public life on the issue of adultery and paternity of many children by different women, we will thereby improve national politics and public service. In fact, we already have a line in the sand, via the Family Code and the Revised Penal Code; but they have not made our public officials more devoted to their spouses.
Second, I have found plenty of material on “the public consequences of private life,” to support the view that society should not allow the argument of privacy to exclude the examination of a person’s sexual behavior in assessing his or her fitness to govern. Private life does have consequences.
The personal is political
The case of former Senator Gary Hart, a candidate for the US presidency, is an emblematic example of how a public figure’s adultery and private morality made him unfit to govern. He had to quit his presidential run in disgrace.
It’s useful to study the feminist dictum, “the personal is political,” and how it applies in the discussion of this issue. The statement, attributed to one feminist, is a powerful reply to those who say private sins do not interfere in the performance of public duties.
Turning to the prospect of a divorce law being passed by the 17th Congress, I believe our legislators will come to realize over the next few years that it is really wise and necessary to bring the country in step with all humanity.