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Does Divorce Have a Place in a ‘Christian nation’ Such as the Philippines?

Risa Hontiveros

Senator Risa Hontiveros is renewing her efforts to legalize divorce in her native Philippines. The Philippines, whose population is predominantly Catholic, currently does not have a no fault divorce law like the United States, although there are provisions in place for annulments. Advocates for divorce say women are the ones who suffer most under the current laws, while others feel the Philippines should maintain its status as a “Christian nation” which eschews “Las Vegas-style” divorce. 

“It has been well-documented that the absence of a divorce law has had disproportionate effects on women who are more often the victims of abuse within marriages, and who are forced to remain in joyless and unhealthy unions because of the dearth of legal options,” Senator Risa Hontiveros wrote in her proposed bill to legalize divorce. 

Opponents to legalized divorce say that since annulment is available, divorce is not necessary. However, many (even divorce opponents) agree the process to obtain an annulment is antiquated and cumbersome.

Unlike the annulment process, Hontiveros’ proposed divorce process would take less time and would involve fewer fees. 

The Philippines Is a ‘Christian Nation’

Meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva said he intends to fight Hontiveros’ bill every step of the way. “We are definitely against any divorce bill. Well, a couple of reasons, but one of the major reason is, we are a Christian nation,” Joel said. Joel is the son of Bro. Eddie Villanueva, who founded the evangelical megachurch Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide and who also holds a political seat. Eddie is a member of the Philippine Congress and even ran for President in 2004 and 2010.

Despite his opposition to divorce, though, Joel does agree that the annulment process is “anti-poor” [people] and takes too long. Joel indicates he is open to the idea of an “upgraded annulment law” that would make the process more accessible and affordable. 

To obtain an annulment in the Philippines, you essentially have to prove the marriage was void to begin with. The process is very expensive due to the legal fees of constructing such an argument, which many people complain involves making things up about one’s spouse. Advocates for divorce say annulments are so expensive they are only obtainable for the rich. The process leaves certain people, such as women living in poverty, particularly vulnerable to having to endure abusive marriages

One Twitter user articulated the problems with the Philippines’ annulment process this way:


Risa Hontiveros: Easier Annulments Won’t Fix the Problem

Hontiveros’ bill would allow for divorce on the grounds of “psychological incapacity of either spouse,” “irreconcilable marital differences,” marital rape, or being separated for at least five years. 

While things like abusive marriages may seem like extreme situations, according to a 2017 study by the National Demographic and Health Survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority, one in four women (26.4 percent) aged 15-49 have experienced some form of violence perpetrated by their spouse. Spousal violence is the most common form of violence experienced by women in this age range. The study surveyed 25,000 women. 

Hontiveros says she has spent time listening to advocates for divorce and hearing their stories. She describes the people she’s met with as “people who have exhausted all means to make their marriage work, been a subject of physical abuse, have gone through trauma from emotional abuse & infidelity or just want the best for their children.” 

We Don’t Want ‘Las Vegas Style’ Divorce

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri says he is open to discussing the bills advocating for divorce, but he doesn’t want to see the Philippines embrace “American-style divorce, like being married in Las Vegas and after a short while you file for divorce.” Zubiri admits there is a cultural hang-up over the word divorce and feels if the discussion were framed differently, it might gain more support in the Senate. “There is more probability or possibility of support if it is not called divorce or we’re not talking of divorce but we’re talking of dissolution of marriage,” he said.

Many evangelical leaders in the United States agree that sometimes divorce is the only option left to those who find themselves in unhealthy marriages. Perhaps because divorce has been legal in the United States for quite some time, the debate in the church has been able to cover more ground, including what Jesus thought about divorce, when it is appropriate, and when it is just selfish. Almost everyone agrees when abuse is involved, divorce is necessary. These leaders would agree that a “Las Vegas” approach to marriage and divorce is just irresponsible.

Hontiveros says she is not against marriage. The politician says she believes in and supports the institution of marriage and insists “I, myself was happily married.” Hontiveros does not see her bill as an attack against marriage or the family, rather she believes it will give Filipinos, especially women and children, second chances “to turn the page and live good and happy lives.”

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Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for churchleaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.