The Catholic Philippines is the only country in the world, next to the Vatican, where divorce is illegal. The election of a new president on May 9 will not change this situation, since none of the candidates with options includes this issue in their electoral program.
In the three months of a frenetic campaign that concludes on Saturday, the main candidates have not given any priority to this issue and they have expressed their opinion only when they have been asked, especially in a debate with almost all the applicants organized by CNN Philippines in March.
Leni Robredothe candidate with a progressive image for her redistributive policies and her closeness to LGTBI groups, stood against despite expressing sympathy for poor people trapped in failed marriages.
None of the main candidates have prioritized divorce in their electoral programs
Had she shown a more open attitude towards divorce, this practicing Catholic might not have been able to receive the support that more than 1,200 bishops and priests gave her this Wednesday, who see her as the only capable candidate to stop the rise of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcosleader in the polls with more than 50 percent of voting intentions.
Absent from the debates and allergic to difficult interviews, the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos emphasized this week that “divorce should not be easy in the country”warning that “a law legalizing marital separation could generate divorce rates of 50 percent”, as is the case in several European countries (in Spain they exceeded 62% in 2014).
Only minority candidates Leody de Guzman, Faisal Mangondato and the well-known senator Panfilo Lacson have been in favor of allowing the divorce, although de Guzman, with a voting intention of 0.02 percent, is the only one that includes it openly in its program.
However, University of the Philippines professor Jean Encinas-Franco explained to Eph that “the fact that presidential candidates have been asked about divorce shows that there is minimal openness in the political debate.”
The Philippine Congress has tried in recent years to pass laws to allow it, but they have always foundered in the Upper House due to to the rejection of the most conservative groups and pressure from powerful religious institutions, especially the influential Catholic Church.
The immobility in the political debate ahead of the elections contrasts with the growing acceptance of a society in which marital separations are becoming more frequent. In a survey published in 2018 by the Social Weather Station, 53% of Filipinos supported the divorce law.
“This shows that there is a growing number of Filipinos who are in favorthere are more and more”, explains Encinas-Franco. “Ten years ago no candidate would have dared to speak publicly about divorce, things are gradually changing”, adds the expert.
Divorce in the Philippines is only available to wealthy families
By 1960, some 30,000 men and more than 52,000 women had separated in the Philippines; in 2010, the figure increased tenfold, with more than half a million women separated from their husbandsaccording to a University of the Philippines study published in 2019.
Currently, the options to dissolve the marriage go through nullity, an expensive and intricate procedure, only available to wealthy families: The minimum expense is around 300,000 pesos (5,000 euros) —which is equivalent to the annual salary of middle-class workers—, although it can reach a million (18,100 euros), and the final decision depends on a judge.
Despite the lack of support among the main candidates, the divorce law is a long-awaited measure by feminist groups in the Philippines, which appears among the countries that make the most efforts for gender equality in Asia: with comparable salaries, parity governments and advanced laws against harassment and discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
One of the great obstacles to the arrival of legal separation in the country is the enormous influence of the Church in the archipelago, where 83% of the population professes the Roman Catholic religion.
Although the position of the clergy has moderated, still considers divorce “immoral”since it introduces disorder within the family and society”, which is why some political leaders have wanted to avoid a head-on clash with the institution.
An example of this is the permissiveness that other confessions enjoy in the country, where Muslims and ethnic minorities can get a divorce to end their marriage.
However, for Professor Encinas-Franco, “even the Catholic Church is changing.” And she ends with an optimistic tone: “The divorce law is imminent, and will soon be on the agenda of legislators“.