By Beting Laygo Dolor                                                                                   Contributing Editor

The Philippines may soon lose its distinction as one of the last few countries where divorce is not legal. But a hold-out and former Senate president said, just don’t call it “divorce.”

Bills that would legalize divorce have been filed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, although President Rodrigo Duterte indicated in the past that he was not too keen on having such a law.

In the upper chamber of the bicameral Congress, Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed last week a bill allowing absolute divorce in the Philippines. She has been an advocate of a divorce law but previous attempts had failed miserably. This year, however, she said she is no longer alone in the Senate as another unnamed lady senator will be supporting her, Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros noted that besides the Philippines, only the Vatican City – an independent state which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church – does not recognize divorce as legal.

She noted that “the number and proportion of Filipinos who are separate has been increasing over time.”

As such, the legal remedies to those seeking to dissolve their union “has largely been an ineffective way of upholding the policy of the State to keep families together,” according to Hontiveros.

Under her bill, Hontiveros has tougher grounds for divorce than, say, the US. Among the grounds she proposes are physical violence as well as grossly abusive conduct. In contrast, the US allows divorce for such grounds as irreconcilable differences or incompatibility.

Sen. Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel II says he would support such a law on one condition – he wants to call the act by another name, such as “dissolution of marriage.”

“If what we’re after is a remedy for a married couple with irreconcilable differences, let us look for this remedy,” said Pimentel, a former Senate president and whose marriage to his first wife was legally annulled last year. He has since re-married.

Just how much support a possible divorce law has can be gleaned when the House approved on third and final reading a bill providing for absolute divorce last year. The majority of congressmen supported the bill, with 134 voting in favor and 57 voting against.

Even the Catholic Church-run Radio Veritas conducted a survey which showed that most Filipinos favor the legalization of divorce.

Past attempts to pass a divorce law had failed in the 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th Congress.

Proponents are hoping that the 18th Congress which opens this month will finally break the jinx, seeing as to how the number of supporters to the proposed law has been growing with each Congress.

While legal separation has long been recognized in the Philippines, divorce wherein a former married couple will be legally allowed to re-marry other partners has never been allowed by law, mostly due to the objections of the Roman Catholic Church, where anywhere from 80 to 85 percent of the population claim to be members.

Even without a divorce law, however, it is no longer uncommon for men and women who have separated from their spouses to co-habit with new partners. While still illegal, cases where former partners sue their ex-husbands or wives have become rare.

Also a uniquely Philippine anachronism is that penalties for women who live-in with men are harsher than for men who co-habit with women.

At the height of his powers, even the late Ferdinand Marcos mulled over having a divorce law passed or issuing a presidential decree legalizing divorce. But he was dissuaded from doing so not only by the Catholic Church but by other Christian denominations such as the Iglesia ni Cristo and the Philippine Independent Church (a.k.a Aglipayan Church).

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