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Church opposes divorce bill; solons seek free floor debate.

By Philippine News Agency and Ben Rosario

"Christ the Lord raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. Let not Congress lay waste these victories with a divorce bill."

Archbishop Gilbert Garcera, chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' Episcopal Commission on Family and Life (CBCP-ECFL), stressed this in a pastoral statement on Friday.

The statement expressed the Catholic Church's disagreement to the proposed legalization of divorce in the country, with a bill approved in a House of Representatives' panel on Wednesday without question.

Instead, the Catholic Church proposed that the value of perseverance and conquering difficulties as a couple be instilled in each Filipino family, so that the society will be stable.

"Children deserve a home where love, faithfulness, and forgiveness reign," said Garcera in the pastoral letter. "In particular, they (children) don't want to see their parents quit because there are difficulties in their relationship. The sight of their parents persevering together will always remain with them, especially when they will have their own families."

"Couples who overcome trials in marriage together grow in virtue and happiness. That is why decent peoples of the world accompany couples and families toward reconciliation and healing. And our holy Mother, the Church, will always and everywhere be there to help," the Lipa Archbishop added, noting people learn from experience.

"Science and human experience tell us that marriage is an immutable and undeniable good. Even in difficult marriages, children have benefited psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Its demands and benefits lead to a better, compassionate, stable, and more dynamic society. Our Constitution's goal of the common good demands all these," Garcera explained.

The Catholic prelate stressed that matrimony is recognized by the Constitution.

"This marriage our Constitution recognizes as an inviolable social institution, as the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State. In fact, our Constitution was once touted as the first pro-family Constitution in the world," Garcera said.

Do not railroad divorce bill

Even one of the original principal authors of the divorce bill, Gabriela Women's Partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus, called on the leadership of the House of Representatives not to railroad its approval and instead allow a free and broad floor deliberation on the issue for the benefit of the public and lawmakers themselves.

De Jesus also revealed that even married couples who already celebrated their golden anniversary may still separate and marry again as the proposed "Divorce and Absolution Dissolution of Marriage Act" does not limit the age or years of marriage of petitioners.

It was the Gabriela partylist that presented the first divorce bill in the Lower House nearly a decade ago. The consolidated version has gained wide support and authored by Gabriela lawmakers and key House officials led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

"I don't believe there is a need to railroad it," said De Jesus in a media interview in Quezon City.

She lamented that a number of bills, particularly the TRAIN measure that triggered tax hikes, have been passed by the Lower House with oppositors denied their right to debate.

With Alvarez declaring that the bill will be passed before Congress adjournment on March 25, staunch oppositorBuhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza expressed fears that the bill's approval will be railroaded.

The Lower House is also expected to debate on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) proposal and approve it before congressional adjournment.

Atienza said there is a strong indication that unlike when they stood united against abbreviated plenary deliberations on a controversial measure, the two independent opposition groups - Makabayan and Magnificent Seven - might ride with the House leadership's bid to ensure a "quickie" approval of the consolidated divorce bill.

Atienza, who represents the Catholic-backed Buhay Party-list, called on the pro-divorce camp not to "bastardize parliamentary rules" and allow a free and broad discussion of the pros and cons of the bill strongly opposed by Catholic leaders.

"They must not use their distorted interpretation of parliamentary rule. This is a very important issue that must be discussed freely and extensively, it is about marriage and family," Atienza said.

De Jesus said that there is a need for a close scrutiny of the divorce bill when it is debated on the floor to ensure that all provisions are clearly understood and avert the filing of Supreme Court petitions questioning constitutionality.

In the same media interview, De Jesus disclosed that a cap on the age of petitioner and length of marriage is not among the provisions of the divorce proposal.

Thus, De Jesus said, petitioners, including those who are married 50 years and over, may find relief in divorce if supported by any of the 10 grounds cited in the bill.

"We leave it leave this decision to the discretion of a sound judicial process," she explained.

The substitute bill allows troubled couples easier access towards the annulment of their marriages. It also proposes summary proceedings that will shorten litigation proceedings.

The final legislative proposal cites the following as grounds for absolute divorce:

Physical violence or grossly abusive conduct directed against the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner;

Physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation;

Attempt of respondent to corrupt or induce the petitioner, a common child, or child of petitioner to engage in prostitution;

Imprisonment of respondent for more than six years, even if pardoned;

Drug addiction or habitual alcoholism or chronic gambling on the part of respondent;

Respondent's homosexuality

Bigamous marriage contracted by respondent

Marital infidelity or perversion or having a child with another person other than spouse during marriage, except upon mutual agreement;

Attempt against the life of the petitioner, common child or child of petitioner;

Abandonment by petitioner by respondent without justifiable cause for more than one year.

The bill also provides for annulment of marriage by maintaining the same grounds already provided for under Article 45 of the Family Code of the Philippines.

Indigent but aggrieved spouses can be assigned counsel de oficio and exempted from payment of court and docket fees in pursuing divorce.

The indigent spouse, one who owns less than P5 million property, may also avail himself or herself of psychologists, and psychiatrists free of charge.

Also allowed in the proposed divorce law is the filing of joint petition for absolute divorce by spouses who are separated for five years or legally separated by judicial declaration by at least two years.

The six grounds that will allow availment of summary proceedings are: de facto separation for at least five years; bigamous marriage; legal separation for at least two years; imprisonment of six years of the respondent spouse and sex reassignment surgery of one partner.


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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Feb 25, 2018
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