WATCH | First time ever: divorce bill reaches House plenary for deliberation

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MANILA, Philippines – For the first time in the history of the House of Representatives, a landmark divorce bill will reach the plenary for deliberation.

On Wednesday, February 21, the proposed bill titled “An Act Providing for Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage” was approved by the House committee on population and family relations, which saw lawmakers from the majority, minority and opposition blocs coming together in one vote.

“Dito lang nagsama-sama ang majority, Makabayan bloc, minority. . .Siguro by next week, baka pumasok na sa plenary ito,” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said.

Alvarez congratulated Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the leader of the opposition bloc called Magnificent 7, for steering the drafting of the consolidated bill.

“Thank you, Speaker, for accommodating our compromise proposals,” Lagman replied.

The bill is a consolidation of five bills seeking either divorce or dissolution of marriage. Both Lagman and Alvarez were authors of separate bills.

‘DIVORCE’ – SEMANTICS CONSIDERED

The previous title only carried “divorce” but Alvarez sought the inclusion of the words “dissolution of marriage” to make the bill more acceptable to the public.

“Technically ang konsepto ng diborsyo ay nag-didissolve ng kasal. One of the reasons ng Speaker was baka magka negative reactions pa sa word na divorce. Sagot namin, tanggap na ng buong mundo ang divorce [Technically, the concept of divorce is to dissolve a marriage. One of the reasons of the Speaker in pushing the term dissolution of marriage was the possible negative reaction to the word ‘divorce.’ But we told him divorce is now accepted in the whole world],” Gabriela partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus said.

The bill listed the following as among its guiding principles:

*Absolute divorce is judicially decreed after the fact of an irremediably broken marital union or a marriage vitiated from the start.
*The State shall ensure that the proceedings for the grant of absolute divorce shall be affordable and inexpensive.
*Concerned spouses have the option to file for absolute divorce under the proposed law, or seek legal separation, annulment of marriage, or nullification of marriage under pertinent provisions of the Family Code of the Philippines, which are not repealed.
*The option of absolute divorce is a pro-woman legislation because in most cases, it is the wife who is entitled to a divorce as a liberation from an abusive relationship and to help her regain dignity and self-esteem.
*A six-month cooling off period is instituted after the filing of a petition for absolute divorce as a final attempt at reconciling the concerned spouses.
*A divorce decree shall include provisions for the care and custody of children, protection of their legitimate termination and liquidation of the conjugal partnership of gains or the absolute community and alimony for the innocent spouse.

Among the grounds for an absolute divorce are:
*When the spouses have been separated in fact for at least 5 years at the time the petition for absolute divorce is filed.
*Existing grounds for legal separation under Article 55 of the Family Code of the Philippines.
*Existing grounds for annulment of marriage under Article 45 of the Family Code of the Philippines.
*When one of the spouses has undergone sexual reassignment surgery.
*Psychological incapacity of either spouse.
*Irreconcilable marital differences and conflicts which have resulted in the total breakdown of the marriage.

Lagman said the bill offers an inexpensive and affordable divorce process, which is also efficient. Indigent litigants or petitioners will be given the opportunity to file their petitions without paying the filing fees and other cost of litigation.

The court will appoint counsel-de-officio for indigent litigants, and the court will also assign social workers and psychologists to assist in the proceedings.

Lagman said absolute divorce may be subject to summary proceedings, which will make the process faster.

For overseas Filipino workers who will resort to the remedy, Lagman said the court will give the OFW preference in scheduling of the hearings and the court will allow the presentation of the evidence upon the availability of the petitioner OFW. The hearings will also be set for not more than two continuous days.