Sunday, 1 October 2023

We are shifting our daily news to Gutzy.Asia Support us there!

‘We want to be free’: Filipinos demand right to divorce

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Philippine mother-of-three Stella Sibonga is desperate to end a marriage she never wanted. But divorce in the Catholic-majority country is illegal, and a court annulment takes years.

The Philippines is the only place outside the Vatican where divorce is outlawed.

Pro-divorce advocates argue the ban makes it harder for couples to cut ties and remarry, and escape violent spouses.

People wanting to end their marriage can ask a court for an annulment or a declaration that the nuptials were invalid from the start, but the government can appeal against those decisions.

The legal process is slow and expensive — cases can cost as much as US$10,000 or more in a country plagued by poverty — with no guarantee of success, and some people seeking a faster result fall for online scams.

“I don’t understand why it has to be this difficult,” said Sibonga, who has spent 11 years trying to get out of a marriage that her parents forced her into after she became pregnant.

Sibonga’s legal battle began in 2012, when she applied to a court to cancel her marriage on the basis of her husband’s alleged “psychological incapacity”, one of the grounds for terminating matrimony.

After five years and US$3,500 in legal fees, a judge finally agreed. The former domestic worker’s relief was, however, short-lived.

The Office of the Solicitor General, which as the government’s legal representative is tasked with protecting the institution of marriage, successfully appealed the decision in 2019.

Sibonga said she requested the Court of Appeals to reverse its ruling but is still waiting for an answer.

“Why are we, the ones who experienced suffering, abandonment and abuse, being punished by the law?” said Sibonga, 45, who lives near Manila.

“All we want is to be free.”

‘Dysfunctional marriages’

The most powerful opponent to divorce in the Philippines is the Catholic Church, which is also against abortion and contraceptives.

Around 78 per cent of the country’s 110 million people are Catholic, according to official census data, and many politicians are wary of contradicting the Church on sensitive social issues.

But Congress has scored significant wins in recent years.

A controversial birth control law was passed in 2012, despite strong opposition from the Church.

And in 2018, majority and opposition parties in the House of Representatives approved a divorce bill that later stalled in the Senate. It was the first time such a proposal had got that far.

Surveys conducted by polling company Social Weather Stations show a shift in Philippine attitudes towards divorce.

In 2005, 43 per cent of Filipinos supported legalising divorce “for irreconcilably separated couples”, while 45 per cent disagreed.

The same survey in 2017 showed 53 per cent in favour, while only 32 per cent disagreed.

A group of lawmakers is now leading a fresh push to legalise divorce, with several bills filed in the House and the Senate.

“We are not destroying any marriage,” said Edcel Lagman, a congressman and author of one of the bills.

Lagman said divorce was for “dysfunctional marriages beyond repair” and legalising it would enable women and their children to escape “intolerant and abusive husbands”.

The legislation would not allow for a “quickie divorce”, he added.

Before he was elected, President Ferdinand Marcos said the country should consider allowing divorce, but insisted it should not be easy.

Annulment scams

The burdensome process for getting a court order to end a marriage has spawned online scams offering to secure a quick ruling without time-consuming court appearances.

AFP fact-checkers found numerous Facebook posts spreading false information about the legal process for annulment in order to attract clients, underscoring a growing global trend of fraudsters profiting off disinformation.

AFP has a global team of journalists, including in the Philippines, who debunk misinformation as part of Facebook and WhatsApp owner Meta’s third-party fact-checking programme.

One victim told AFP she was charged the equivalent of US$2,400 for an annulment service that turned out to be fake.

She is now considering converting to Islam in the hope of securing a divorce under Muslim law.

“I’m really trying every possible option just to be single again,” she said on condition of anonymity.

“Annulment takes so long, it’s so expensive and it’s not guaranteed, so I’m seeking a more convenient way.”

Family law specialist Katrina Legarda said the number of people falling for bogus services showed there was a “dire need” for new legislation.

But Father Jerome Secillano, of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the nation should be “proud” to be the only country outside the Vatican “holding on to the traditional concept of marriage”.

“There will always be imperfections in a relationship,” he said.

Secillano said divorcing an abusive partner would “perpetuate the violence” because the perpetrator would go on to abuse their next partner.

“You are not actually curing the disease itself,” he said.

‘I’m a sinner’

Sibonga was raised a Catholic but stopped attending church to avoid accusations of adultery.

She has a long-term boyfriend, but cannot tie the knot with him until her first marriage is legally terminated.

That her case has dragged on for so long is not unusual in the Philippines, where a creaky justice system can take years to resolve even minor issues.

“People think that because I am still technically married, I’m a sinner,” she said.

“They really believe that what God has united cannot be separated. Really? Even if your husband is trying to kill you, even after everything he’s done, divorce is still not allowed?”

Sibonga said her relationship with her husband had been traumatic and had pushed her to attempt suicide twice.

She does not want her children to marry until divorce is allowed.

“I told them they can cohabitate and have as many children as they want, but I won’t ever consent to them getting married,” she said.

“I just don’t want them to end up like me.”


Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Latest posts

Election surprises and certainties: Dissecting Tharman’s presidential win

In the 2023 Presidential Election, Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam secured a stunning 70.4% landslide victory, surprising many, including himself. Despite expectations that TKL would win the opposition votes, voters from both camps showed a preference for Tharman's charisma and perceived competency. As Singapore reflects on the outcome, questions arise about the election's fairness and the real implications of Tharman's dominant win.

Volunteer as a Polling and Counting Agent for Singapore’s 2023 Presidential Election

For the upcoming Singapore Presidential Election on 1st September, members of the civil society have spearheaded an initiative to strengthen our democratic fabric. We invite committed individuals to join us as Polling and Counting Agents, standing together for a transparent, fair, and just election. This vote counting exercise, organized by members of civil society, is not specifically in support of Mr Tan Kin Lian, a candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election. It's an exercise in active citizenry. Nonetheless, Mr Tan endorses this initiative, which hinges on his candidacy, championing transparency, and has given permission for the results to be shared publicly.

Reflections from the Centenary: The Legacy of LKY and Singapore’s Future

Gilbert Goh reflects on the LKY centenary event: an inspiring showcase of a leader's global legacy juxtaposed against current challenges, urging Singapore to continue its path of progress.

Lim Tean advocates for Tan Kin Lian: A visionary leader for Singapore’s Presidency

In his speech at Mr Tan Kin Lian's launch of his presidential bid, Mr Lim Tean passionately championed the need for a truly Independent President. Highlighting Mr Tan Kin Lian's unique credentials and genuine concern for the wellbeing of Singaporeans, the Peoples Voice leader emphasized the pressing challenges of rising living costs and job insecurities faced by the public. Mr Lim depicted Mr Tan Kin Lian as a beacon of hope for the nation, advocating for a leader who genuinely understands and represents the people’s aspirations.

Tan Jee Say endorses Tan Kin Lian for President: A courageous, genuine, and humble...

In advocating for a truly representative leader, Tan Jee Say underscored Tan Kin Lian's humility, courage, and genuine dedication. Highlighting the pressing need for restored public trust and effective independence, Tan Jee Say emphasized that Tan Kin Lian, as the 'People's President', would bring back hope to Singaporeans and champion true democracy

Tan Kin Lian’s pledge: Rekindling unity and charting a vigorous future for Singapore

In the press conference to announce his bid for the Singapore presidency, Tan Kin Lian emphasizes safeguarding Singapore's reserves and strengthening public service integrity. Drawing on his 30-year leadership at NTUC Income, he envisions a future with affordable living, accessible housing, and job stability, pledging collaboration with the government for a united nation.

Strengthening Singapore’s political foundations: A call to action by Leong Mun Wai on Singapore’s...

Leong Mun Wai urges Singaporeans to strengthen political checks and balances, emphasizing, 'The best is yet to be for Singapore if we dare to make the right decision in upcoming elections.

Trending posts