CBCP: Divorce bill 'anti-marriage and anti-family'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 23) — Despite public support for legalizing divorce, the Catholic Church said doing so would harm institutions that the government should protect.

"The Church is all for the protection of rights especially of the aggrieved parties," said Fr. Jerome Secillano, Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, in a Thursday statement.

"While divorce may indeed vindicate the rights of women, as congressmen believed, it is unfortunately to the detriment of marriage and family as sacred institutions that should otherwise be protected by the State," he added. "Divorce is anti-marriage and anti-family!"

The statement came after the House of Representatives committee on population and family relations approved on Wednesday a measure that would allow divorce in the Philippines.

Read: House panel approves substitute bill on divorce

Under the bill, married couples may end their marriage for several reasons, including abuse, infidelity and irreconcilable differences.

The proposed measure also allows spouses separated for at least five years to file for absolute divorce.

At present, the Philippines and the Vatican are the only countries without divorce laws.

A 2015 Social Weather Stations survey found that three in five Filipinos favor legalizing divorce.

Providing options

But Taguig Rep. Pia Cayetano, one of the bill's authors, said the government is simply providing another legal option for spouses in bad marriages.

"Having a divorce (bill) in a country does not make people rush into it," she said on Wednesday. "Let's legalize it na para maayos na, para 'di magkaroon ng problems sa properties. Mas maayos ang relationship because it ended."

[Translation: Let's legalize it so that it's fixed, so that there won't be conflicts over properties. The relationship is better because it ended.]

The Family Code of the Philippines currently provides two ways for couples to separate.

First is legal separation — which allows spouses to split up, but not to remarry — and annullment, which allows spouses to remarry because the marriage is considered invalid from the start.

Cayetano, whose own marriage was annulled, said couples tend to stay in broken or abusive marriages because getting an annulment is a long and expensive process.

"For someone — and usually it's a woman — to obtain an annulment, she would have to prove that the person is psychologically incapacitated," she said. "On its own, beating up your wife or not being a responsible partner by coming home drunk everyday is not a ground to annul the marriage."

Cayetano added that rising from the trauma of a failed marriage should not be a living nightmare.

"Under the divorce decree, we recognize specific grounds that could exist before the marriage or during the marriage," she said. "It is simply providing closure for a marriage that is already dead."

Cayetano believes the House has a good chance of passing the divorce bill, but whether or not it will be passed in the Senate is a different story.

Divorce in Senate?

Sen. Win Gatchalian said on Thursday that divorce has not yet been discussed among senators, adding that passing a divorce bill needs a lot of considerations.

"I don't believe in what I call a drive-through divorce," he said. "I believe na isa sa mga grounds to allow separation, whether it's annulment or divorce, is kung merong abuso na ginagawa or merong pananakit or violence na nangyayari. What we need is a clear process for people to follow."

[Translation: I believe that one of the grounds to allow separation, whether it's annulment or divorce, is if there is abuse or violence that is happening.]

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he would clarify President Rodrigo Duterte's stand on divorce.

Duterte said during the presidential campaign in March 2016 that he was against the move.

Read: LOOK: Presidential candidates' stand on divorce, death penalty, Marcos

"I will seek clarification within the day if his position on divorce — and that he is against divorce — still stands," Roque said in a Thursday Palace press briefing.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondents Cecille Lardizabal and Ina Andolong and Digital Producer VJ Bacungan contributed to this report.