POSTSCRIPT / June 13, 2024 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Journalist

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Just place expiry dates on marriage contracts?

THERE is another way out for lawmakers, especially those afraid to cross their wives, who are hesitant to vote for/against the Absolute Divorce Bill pending in the Congress.

The Absolute Divorce Bill is pending in the Congress.
Photo: Getty Images

Instead of debating about marriage and divorce, why don’t legislators just pass a law allowing renewable marriage contracts good for 10 years (or whatever term limit the partners choose) without the usual “till death do us part” melodrama?

With that provision for the optional renewal of marriage vows when the term contract expires, the strain and pain of divorce proceedings on the family vanishes. They can even turn the marriage contract renewal, if that’s their choice after a decade, into a grand celebration.

The divorce bill, which lists situations where separation is allowed, had passed on third and final reading in the House of Representatives by a slim vote of 126 to 109, with 20 abstentions. It’s now the turn of the Senate to wrestle with the sensitive subject. [After last-minute changing of votes, the House Secretary General’s office said on May 29 the affirmative votes had increased to 131.]

The House bill, with Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman as principal author, provides the grounds and judicial procedures for divorce, aims to spare children the pain and stress caused by their parents’ differences, and grants the separated spouses the right to marry again.

A petition for divorce may be filed on these grounds: 1) legal separation under Article 55 of the Family Code; 2) annulment of marriage under Article 45 of the Code; 3) separation of the spouses for at least five years with reconciliation highly improbable; 4) psychological incapacity as provided in Article 36 of the Code; 5) irreconcilable differences; and 6) domestic or marital abuse to include acts under RA 9262, or the Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004.

It looks like that Lagman’s divorce will still be very costly and complicated for our population whose middle class is shrinking, where 47 percent of households rate themselves as poor and continually harassed by rising prices and dwindling jobs.

* * *

TO EASE the pressure, why don’t we drop the divorce idea that will benefit mostly moneyed couples, and go instead for EDCA-type renewable contracts with 10-year termination dates? The 10-year term can be modified by mutual agreement.

[EDCA or Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was invented in 2014 to go around the constitutional ban on foreign bases after 1991 by calling US military installations here as “facilities” on what are technically Philippine bases.]

Somebody from left field suggested, “Or let’s legalize polygamy so those creatures who actually just want to replace bedmates as often as they change pillow cases do not use “irreconcilable differences” as excuse for seeking divorce.

We understand that suggestion for polygamy as an offshoot of seeing some politicians and actors kunwari converting to Islam to justify their maintaining extra wives without running afoul of the law.

The Philippines has earned a mention in Google as “the only country in the world where divorce is outlawed for all citizens, except for Muslims… Several historical factors can be attributed to this rare law in the nation, most notably Spanish colonization.”

Why the special mention of Muslim Filipinos? What does the Koran say about Muslim men supposedly being allowed to have four wives? Examine the text, which says:

“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.”

* * *

I ASKED my lawyer Roberto “Argee” Guevarra what he thought of my proposal that prospective couples be given the option of signing a limited-term marriage contract good for 10 or 12 years with a possibility of renewing it periodically in consultation with their children.

Still a bachelor, Argee said: “I haven’t heard of a marriage contract anywhere in the world with a term of 10 or 12 years. In the Philippines, marriage is punctuated by a period after the last sentence. A death sentence (‘till death do us part’).

He added: “Yes the idea is novel, but the SC cannot undo their decisions characterizing marriage as a ‘sacred’ contract. For the SC to re-characterize it would take a Roe v. Wade-level of policy shift.”

Me: “A 10-year marriage contract, like all legal contracts entered into in good faith, is sacred….”

Argee: “As a crime prevention legal instrument, it may lessen instances of parricide — why murder your spouse if you can just wait for the term to expire?”

Terminating marriages gone awry is usually very expensive and painful for family members. It helps to some extent that there are such processes as annulment and legal separation, but the estranged partners may not marry.

Some couples who have money go abroad to work out a divorce, but since divorce is not recognized in the Philippines the couple may not contract subsequent marriages. A new law allowing divorce here can solve that problem.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines, as expected, has lobbied against legislation to legalize absolute divorce in the country. It says that such process is “anti-marriage” and “anti-family”.

While keeping one eye on passing an Absolute Divorce Law, maybe the Congress should also consider allowing marriage term contracts with limited – but renewable or extendable – expiry dates.

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