MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 10:25 a.m.) Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who openly admits to a partnership outside of marriage, denied he is pushing a bill on the dissolution of marriages for his personal benefit saying he is allowed by law to be polygamous as a member of a Mindanao tribe.
But members of the Manobo tribe, to which Alvarez claims to belong, took exception to his statement, saying that while it is technically true, it was out of context and misused ethnicity and heritage for personal convenience.
“Ang dissolution of marriage po, iyan ay fi-nile ko, hindi po para sa sarili ko, dahil hindi ko po iyan kailangan, dahil ako po ay miyembro ng isang tribe sa Mindanao kung saan po puwede po sa amin ‘yung multiple marriages. At ‘yung naggo-govern po na batas sa amin ay yung kultura po ng tribo,” Alvarez said in an interview over radio station dzBB, a transcript of which was provided by his office.
(I filed the dissolution of marriage bill not for my benefit because I don’t need it as a member of a tribe in Mindanao where we are allowed multiple marriages. And the law that governs us is the culture of the tribe.)
Alvarez said he is a Manobo and is covered by the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, which recognizes, respects and protects the rights of indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples “to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions and institutions.”
“I am covered by the IPRA law because I am an IP,” he added.
Asked if this allows him to have more than one wife, he said: “Puwede po ‘yun sa batas namin (That is allowed by our laws).”
Rius Valle of the Save Our Schools Network said it was the first time he learned of Manobo’s supposed ethnicity.
He acknowledged that “sa ngayon acceptable pa ang ‘duway’ o multiple marriage (for now, duway or multiple marriage is still acceptable)” but explained that this was “not in the context of sexual desires” but “economic — adding the workforce of the family laluna kung medyo malaki ang tinataniman na sakahan. Kaya acceptable sa mga wives ay dahil gusto din nila may katulong sa sakahan (especially when the farm is large. That is why it is acceptable to wives who are also looking for help to farm).”
But, he added, “ngayon binabago na ‘yan na orientation kasi ini-introduce na ngayon ng schools ang collective farming … para sagutin ang ganyang pangangailangan kaya ngayon unti-unti na nilang naiintindihan ito (now this orientation is being changed because the schools are introducing collective farming … to meet this need so they are beginning to understand this).”
For his part,Jong Monzon of the Mandaya Manobo, secretary general of the Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao, slammed Alvarez for invoking his Manobo heritage in the context of multiple marriages “when he has been silent all along while our communities and our schools have been attacked, and even when President Duterte threatened to order air strikes on our schools.”
Valle and Monzon are among hundreds of lumad who are in Metro Manila to demand an end to militarization in their communities and attacks on tribal schools by state forces and government-backed militias.
At a press conference following his second state of the nation address on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte echoed military claims lumad schools taught their students to support communist rebels and threatened to order the Air Force to carry out air strikes against them.
Alvarez earlier said he has been estranged and living apart from his wife Emelita for several years.
“Kaya ko lang naman po talaga itong tinutulak dahil gusto ko pong i-address ‘yung mga hinaing ng karamihan. Ang dami po na mga married couples na hindi na po talaga nagkakasundo. Gusto nilang tapusin ‘yung kanilang pagsasama (The reason why I am pushing this is to address the appeal of the majority. There are many married couples that really don’t agree with each other. They want to end their relationship),” he said.
He said the only legal means available, annulment, was “adversarial” and requires destroying the other party.
Earlier, he said a husband or wife should be able to file a petition to seek a way out of marriage because of “unhappiness.”
Alvarez expects Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano to shepherd the bill.
Under his proposal, “one of the conditions, which must be complied with, is an agreed upon and executable framework to provide for the care and support of their children,” Alvarez said.
“Moreover, previously married persons can remain friends and better parents, despite their differences, since they no longer have to sling mud at each other in front of a judge just to convince the magistrate that their marriage should be declared void or voided,” he added.
He said critics of the bill, including the Catholic church, should give it a chance.
Alvarez plans to hold public hearings not only in the Philippines, but abroad, especially where there are many Filipino workers, saying he has received messages from Filipinos in Japan thanking him for pushing the bill.