Philippine bishops tell legislators to reconsider divorce bill

Bishops from the Philippines are asking legislators to give the divorce bill another thought, after it passed a second reading at the House of Representatives.

(REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino)Divorce might become legal in the Philippines, the only country in the world that currently bans it.

In a pastoral letter read to churchgoers, Archbishop Romula Valles of Davao City, who is the current president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, stated that the bill threatened marriages and families. He advised lawmakers to talk the matter over with their constituents before signing the bill into a law.

"With due respect to [the legislators], we beg them to make room for more reasoned debates on the issue," Valles said. "Ask people and they'll have no second thoughts affirming that the family remains one of our most valued treasures as Filipinos."

But a poll conducted in 2017 showed that 53 percent of Filipinos favor the legalization of divorce. The Philippines, where 86 percent are Catholics, and the Vatican are the only two places around the world where divorce is not allowed, except for Filipino Muslims.

However, the Family Code of the Philippines allows for annulment - which nulls and voids a marriage - and legal separation. Both processes undergo expensive and extensive hearings in court. The divorce bill, if legalized, would make the process affordable, especially for low-income families.

On Feb. 21, the committee on population and family relations at the Lower House accepted the divorce bill introduced by Albay representative Edcel Lagman for deliberation. There is still no divorce bill equivalent in the Philippine Senate (Upper House), which will discuss the House bill in the coming months.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, however, also released a statement through its Executive Secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano, decrying the measure and citing that it was anti-family and anti-marriage.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stated in his campaign in 2016 that he was against divorce but would let lawmakers decide on the bill. The president's first wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman, filed for annulment in 1998 and the courts granted this after two years.