Philippine Catholic church slams ‘anti-family’ legalisation of divorce
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Philippine Catholic church slams ‘anti-family’ legalisation of divorce

THE leading Catholic authority in the Philippines has expressed outrage over the Philippines’ proposed legalisation of divorce, with religious leaders describing the Act as “anti-marriage and anti-family”.

Last week, the country’s House of Representatives’ Committee on Population and Family Relations unanimously approved the proposed legislation entitled an “Act Instituting Absolute Divorce in the Philippines.” Aside from the Vatican, the Philippines is the only Catholic-majority nation in the world where divorce is illegal.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, chaired by Archbishop Gilbert A. Garcera, last Friday issued a pastoral statement condemning the proposed divorce bill.

SEE ALSO: New Bill moves Philippines a step closer to legalising divorce

The pastoral letter stressed that marriage is an “inviolable social institution” – the foundation of the family – which shall be protected by the state as enshrined in the Constitution.

“Children deserve a home where love, faithfulness, and forgiveness reign. In particular, they don’t want to see their parents quit because there are difficulties in their relationship,” the pastoral letter exhorted.

“The sight of their parents persevering together will always remain with them especially when they will have their own families.” The statement also emphasised that “what God has joined together, no human being must separate,” referring to marriage.

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Source: AP

The entire House of Representatives will further deliberate the proposal during plenary sessions for approval or rejection. No member of the Senate has so far filed a similar divorce bill.

Laws approved by the Lower House must be transmitted to the Upper House for concurrence. If there are variances on a particular measure, members of both houses will constitute a bicameral conference to reconcile differences before they are transmitted for Presidential action.

President Rodrigo Duterte, whose marriage with his first wife was annulled, is leaving the fate of the divorce bill to Congress, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said yesterday.

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During the presidential campaign trail in 2016, Duterte, a confessed womaniser, said he was not in favour of divorce “for the sake of the children.”

Civil annulment is already permitted in the Philippines but it requires a lengthy process and expenses of around P250,000 (US$4,800) for the cost of litigation and psychiatric fees.

According to the proposed measure, while the State continues to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family, it gives the opportunity to spouses in irremediably failed marriages to secure an absolute divorce.

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Fr. Jerry Habunal, a Catholic priest, leads the burning dried palm leaves as they burn to be used for Ash Wednesday rites, marking the start of Lent at the Our Lady of the Abandoned Diocesan Shrine Parish in Muntinlupa city, south of Manila, Philippines February 9, 2018. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who is among the authors of the divorce bill, said that once the government approves divorce, seeking the dissolution of marriage “will not be costly and lengthy” to the aggrieved party.

Alvarez is separated from his wife Emelita, who last year broke her silence and admitted that her husband left their family home after he became the House Speaker. Emelita said she was aware her husband was having an illicit affair and Alvarez subsequently admitted to having a girlfriend.

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A statement from the Speaker’s office said that under the proposed divorce bill, among the grounds for divorce are when the spouses are living separately for at least five years, irreconcilable differences and sexual infidelity.

Alvarez said irreconcilable difference is when the married spouses are no longer happy with each other and there is no point in reconciling. The Bill provides for alimony or financial support for the children of divorced parents.

Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of CBCP’s public affairs committee, has urged the government to protect the sanctity marriage instead of weakening it with a divorce law.

“Divorce is anti-marriage and anti-family. By passing this measure, Congress (will) betray its mandate to protect our country’s legally and morally declared social and inviolable institution,” he said.