The Philippines is one of the only countries in the world where divorce is illegal, often trapping women in toxic marriages with no way out.
- Nearly 90 per cent of the Philippines’ population identify as Catholic
- No progress has been made since the divorce bill passed through the Lower House in March
- The only method to legally leave a marriage is through an annulment many can’t afford
According to a report published this year by the Philippine Statistic Authority, one in four married women in the Philippines have been assaulted by their partner or husband.
Patti Gallardo-Marcelo is one of those women.
“I was battered physically, emotionally, sexually and financially by my former partner for 24 years, starting at the age of 16,” she told the ABC.
Ms Gallardo-Marcelo, who married her former husband at a young age, she said she unwittingly became a victim.
“While most girls were celebrating their introduction to society, I was already experiencing snippets of manipulation and control that I mistook for love,” she said.
While the Philippines is one of two countries left in the world where divorce is illegal — the other being Vatican City — the country is making moves towards its legalisation.
A divorce bill was passed in the country’s Lower House of Congress this March, despite opposition from President Rodrigo Duterte, who also had a failed marriage.
The bill would allow the court to dissolve marriages which are considered “irremediably broken” and for individuals to remarry a person of the opposite sex.
Nearly 90 per cent of the Philippines’ population identify themselves as Catholic — and the bill has now become a struggle between the majority conservative ideals and the progressive wings of parliament.
‘President Duterte is against divorce’
Nearly seven months on, the bill has remained stagnant. But even if it passes in favour in the senate, Mr Duterte could still use his veto powers to cancel it.
“The President is against divorce,” Mr Duterte’s spokesperson said in a press conference after the move in March this year.
Former house speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, one of the principal authors of the divorce bill, said the bill had made little progress due to strong lobbies against divorce by supporters of the Catholic Church.
“The majority and minority [in the Lower House] worked together, there was no opposition.
“They supported the bill. I don’t understand why the Senate of the Philippines are so afraid to deliver it and pass the bill.”
Spousal violence is the most common form of violence experienced by women aged between 15 and 49, the Philippine Statistic Authority figures show.
The findings were based on a preliminary result from the 2017 national demographic and health survey, which found 26 per cent of women in that age group have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their husband or partner.
Annulment is a luxury few can afford
For politicians like Mr Alvarez and Mr Duterte, leaving their marriages is more feasible than for most of the country’s poorer and vulnerable residents.
The process is a luxury few can afford — taking up to 10 years in the overburdened court system and costing thousands of dollars.
The only method to legally end a marriage is through a civil procedure called an annulment, where the marriage is declared null and void from the beginning on the grounds of “psychological incapacity”.
“For instance, when entering a marriage, one party is not prepared to enter married life, say they failed to perform their obligation as a husband or a wife … that can be considered as a psychological incapacitated spouse,” Mr Alvarez said, adding that there were many ways to interpret the phrase.
Ms Gallardo-Marcelo said she escaped her marriage in 2002, but it took five years and 150,000 Philippine pesos ($3,888) — about 56 per cent of an average Filipino family’s annual income — to file a criminal case against her ex-husband and nullify the marriage.
In a country that criminalises adultery and concubinage, married women who have another relationship can be jailed up to six years while married men who are proven to be living with another woman can be jailed for up to four years.
Law ‘biased’ against domestic violence survivors
While the Philippines Government signed the Anti-violence against women and their children Act in 2004 — aimed at protecting women and children on a range of violence — many feel that it’s not enough.
“It assumes that there is violence but that is not always the case, and there are still social effects on the children and couples,” Mr Alvarez said.
Ms Gallardo-Marcello said the archaic court system was one of the reasons why many women don’t file abuse cases.
“Very few cases are successful [because] many women are intimidated by the process and uninformed about how the law can assist them,” she said.
“I have moved forward and a lot of the women we have helped have moved forward as well.
“Make kwento” translates to “tell their story like it is”.
Ms Gallardo-Marcello has since started a local NGO called SAVE Our Women, short for Stop the Abuse and Violence, in 2007.
This story was sourced via the 2018 East West Centre’s Senior Journalism Seminar.
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