Philippines moves closer to allowing divorce

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Anti-divorce protestersImage source, AFP/Getty
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Divorce remains illegal in the Philippines, which has a large Catholic population.

The Philippines' lower house of Congress has passed a divorce bill on the third reading, moving the country closer to legalisation.

The bill passed despite opposition from President Rodrigo Duterte, who had his own marriage legally annulled.

However, for divorce to become legal the Senate also has to pass a bill in favour, and even then Mr Duterte could still use his veto to strike it down.

Worldwide, divorce is only illegal in the Philippines and Vatican City.

Over 80% of people in the Philippines describe themselves as Catholic, and the church has a powerful influence in the country.

Congresswoman Emmi de Jesus said the bill was filed because of a "clamour of women trapped in abusive relationships", who need the government to give them a means out of "irreparable marriages".

The Divorce Bill, or House Bill 7303, passed with 134 votes in favour and 57 against, with two abstentions.

What can Filipinos currently do to get out of a marriage?

Currently, the only means to end a marriage legally in the Philippines is annulment.

Such a ruling requires a civil case in which spouses have to undergo mental health tests and testify in court, all in a bid to have a judge declare a marriage invalid.

Such cases can last up to ten years and are generally expensive. President Duterte won his annulment before he entered office.

His spokesperson, Harry Roque, said the president feared the divorce bill would cause problems for the children of divorced couples.

What would the new bill allow?

This divorce bill would mean a court ruling could dissolve a marriage if it is deemed "irremediably broken", allowing individuals to remarry another person of the opposite sex.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had his marriage annulled before he entered office.

The bill would also give courts the power to decide custody "in accordance with the best interests" of minors. Children under seven could not be separated from their mothers unless there were "compelling reasons" to do so.

Opposition leader Edcel Lagman, one of the bill's sponsors, said that in such divorce cases, "there is no more marriage to protect or union to destroy because the marriage has long perished".

The bill does not end the "steadfast commitment of the state to protect and preserve marriage", he said.

In any case, divorce will not become legal in the Philippines unless the Senate passes a so-called counterpart bill, which the upper house has not even drafted.

Legislators have advanced numerous divorce bills since 1999, but until now they have all failed to pass committee stage.

Polls suggest a narrow majority in favour of divorce in the Philippines.

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