The House of Representatives (HOR) has approved on its third and final reading the proposal to legalize absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage in the country last Monday, March 19. Voting tallied to 134 in favor, and 57 against; two lawmakers abstained.
It's the first time a bill on legalizing divorce was ever sent to plenary, let alone get approved in the Lower House just within a month. On February 22, the HOR Committee of Population and Family Relations approved the substitute bill that consolidated House Bills (HB) 116, 1062, 2380 and 6027—earlier versions of the bill which tackle the following respectively: absolute divorce, more grounds for annulment, divorce, and dissolution of marriage.
On March 16, the House approved the now-numbered substitute bill—House Bill No. 7303, otherwise known as "An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines"—on its second reading. Then, on March 19, lawmakers already approved it on its third and final reading.
(For a more detailed discussion of the proposal's grounds and other salient points, click here.)
"The Divorce Bill was filed in response to the clamor of women trapped in abusive relationships and the need for the Philippine government to provide yet another option for irreparable marriages, in recognition of this reality," the Gabriela Party-list group, whose representatives are co-authors of the bill, said in a statement.
When Smartparenting.com.ph announced on Facebook the divorce bill's approval on its second reading, the news was met with mixed reactions. Some people feared for the sanctity of marriage being violated, while others were concerned that this would make it easier for married men to become bigamous.
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However, there was one comment that stood out from the others:
The Expanded Maternity Leave Act, or Senate Bill No. 1305, was approved in the Senate in March 2017—that's a little over a year ago. The HOR version, House Bill No. 4113 or the Expanded Maternity Leave (EML) Bill, is up to now still pending approval.
Like the proposal to legalize divorce, the EML would also benefit women and their children, and many are hoping for its swift approval. HOR Committee on Women and Gender Equality chairperson Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy is hopeful that it will be passed this March.
The Philippines is the only country aside from The Vatican, in Rome, Italy, that still doesn't have legal provisions for divorce, so this historic bill may be much-anticipated for those who are trapped in a loveless or abusive marriage. However, it's important to note that the divorce bill, no matter how quickly it gets passed in the HOR, cannot move forward to become a law unless the Senate proposes and approves its version.
Currently, no proposal to legalize divorce has been submitted in the Senate. Senators Vicente "Tito" Sotto, Joel Villanueva, and Francis Escudero have said that they are in opposition of, or have apprehensions about, legalizing divorce. "An amendment to the grounds for annulment might stand a better chance of passage," Sotto told ABS-CBN News in February 2018.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel IIIand Senator Panfilo Lacson, however, are not closing their doors entirely on legalizing divorce, so there might be hope for this bill moving forward, although presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr., said in a news conference in Camarines Sur Monday that President Rodrigo Duterte opposes divorce.