State to pay for lawyers, psychiatrists
A BILL allowing divorce cleared the House Committee on Population and Family Relations on Wednesday, paving the way for floor debates.
The panel unanimously approved the proposal authored by lawmakers of various political stripes, including Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte, Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, Rep. Pia Cayetano of Taguig City, Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol and Rep. Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela party-list.
The proposed “Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage Act” provides an extensive list of grounds for absolute divorce, including marital infidelity which is committed by having a child with another person other than one’s spouse during the marriage, except when a child is born through in vitro fertilization or similar procedure, or when the wife bears a child after being a victim of rape.
Other grounds for absolute divorce include: physical abuse against the petitioner, a common child or child of the petitioner; physical violence to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation; attempt to induce the petitioner, a common child or child of the petitioner to prostitution; final judgment sentencing the respondent to imprisonment of more than six years; drug addiction or habitual alcoholism or chronic gambling of the respondent; homosexuality of the respondent; contracting of the respondent of a bigamous marriage whether in the Philippines or abroad; and attempt by a respondent against the life of the petitioner, a common child or child of the petitioner.
Summary proceedings or speedy dissolution of marriage will be administered in these instances: when a joint petition is filed based on the grounds provided for absolute divorce; when one of the spouses has undergone a sex reassignment surgery; when the spouses have been living separately de facto for at least five years; when one of the spouses has contracted a bigamous marriage and when one of the spouses have been legally separated by a judicial decree for two years.
The divorce bill makes the dissolution of marriage affordable as it mandates the state to assist indigent petitioners by waiving the filing and lawyers’ fees. Courts will be mandated to provide a psychiatrist and psychologist in divorce proceedings.
A petitioner is considered indigent if his or her real property is worth P5 million and below.
Cayetano said the P5 million threshold was not much, considering that spending for the family’s needs could be reduced because of divorce proceedings.
“In our public consultations, we have learned that people are constrained to staying in abusive marriages because they don’t have enough resources to spend for annulment proceedings. We want this bill to be accessible to those in need of it. You may be gainfully employed, earning P20,000 a month, but it’s possible that you can’t afford to spend money for divorce that you badly need so you just stay in the failed marriage,” she said.
“That’s why we set the threshold focusing on amount of properties. Even if people have this much property, they might have to sell it to access the amount, [thus the P5 million threshold],” said Cayetano, who is estranged from her husband Ari-Ben Sebastian with whom she has two daughters.
An annulment costs P250,000 on average, according to the committee’s findings.
Remedy for OFWs
For Rep. Ancieto Bertiz of ACTS OFW party-list, a remedy for broken marriages is needed, especially for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) whose spouses have turned their backs on them.
“This will help the case of our Overseas Filipino Workers who have been divorced by their former husbands who are foreigners, and those whose husbands back home already had a family with another woman while they were abroad,” Bertiz said in a statement.
“I have attended a public hearing on this measure in Hong Kong, and there was a case wherein the wife, who toiled for long years working in Hong Kong came home to the Philippines only to find out that the home that she worked hard for is being occupied by her husband and her husband’s mistress. Our laws should address these cases of aggrieved parties,” Bertiz added.
Lagman said the divorce and dissolution of marriage bill provides for a cooling-off period of six months wherein the parties are given a chance to reconcile.
Divorce proceedings can be stopped at any time if the couple decides to reconcile. If the couple decides to reconcile after the court grants divorce, the court can recall the decision and set it aside for good.
“These provisions prove that we are upholding the state’s obligation to protect the family by healing them from broken marriages and giving them the opportunity to have a second chance at marital bliss, with full protection of the children considered,” Lagman said.
‘Marriage is sacred’
But for Representatives Danilo Suarez of Quezon, Jose Atienza of Buhay party-list and Alfredo Garbin of Ako Bicol party-list, marriage is sacred and should not be easily dissolved.
“We should protect the family, not the other way around. That is why I always listen to my wife,” Suarez said in a news conference.
“There are sacrifices that have to be made when you want to build a family. Don’t get married unless you are prepared. I am for protecting the family and the sanctity of marriage in adherence to the Constitution,” Atienza said.
Atienza said legislators should find solutions to broken marriages, without legalizing divorce.
“Are we really giving people a solution here? Are we going to throw gasoline to the flame or put out the fire? Children will be most affected by parents who are separated,” Atienza argued.
Garbin, a lawyer, said: “We already have annulment, and legal separation which penalizes erring spouses.”