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FES Dialogue on

FES International Policy
Analysis Unit

FES Journal -
International Politics and

Issues of Divorce and Abortion

Lead Writers: Veronica Fenix-Villavicencio (for the policy paper on Divorce)

and Rina Jimenez David (for the policy paper on Abortion)
December 2000


In the Philippines, while the women's movement has gained much ground in bringing
gender issues to public discussion and debate, there remain crucial issues on which
genuine public consensus, even among women, has yet to be adequately explored or
articulated. In place of democratic debate based on data and existing conditions, the
Filipino public is bombarded instead with unyielding doctrine and alarmist scenarios.
Little room is given for dissenting views or probing questions.

In mid-1999, the Roman Catholic Church and conservative elements waged in a spirited
campaign against so-called "anti-life and anti-family" legislation. These "sin bills" would
have allowed for divorce, abortion under special conditions, the granting of certain
rights to gays and lesbians, as well as a bill strengthening the formulation and
implementation of a population and development policy. While realistically none of
these bills faced the prospect of passage in the near future, given the intense
opposition against them, they have already served their purpose of bringing these
delicate and indeed intensely personal issues to the attention of the public.

While divorce, reproductive rights, abortion, and homosexual rights lie at the very
center of the struggle for women's rights and have a significant impact on women's
lives, women's groups in the Philippines have been hard put fashioning a reasoned and
humane consensus on these issues. There are many reasons for this, among them the
need to protect the still-fledgling women's movement from being labeled as anti-life and
anti-family and thereby isolating it from the rest of society, the broad range of
sentiments even among feminists about such highly personal matters, and the
hypocrisy with which public figures and opinion makers approach any controversy.

Aware that as a feminist organization devoted to raising public consciousness about
women's issues and bringing the women's question to the table of policy debate and
decision-making, the National Council of PILIPINA decided to respond to the challenge
by launching a series of discussions on these matters both within its organization and
eventually among the public. This it plans to do through a consensus-building process
within PILIPINA and with other women's organizations and civil society groups. It hoped
to present positions and raise questions on divorce, reproductive rights, abortion and
homosexual rights that would generate public debate and provide women and men the
platform on which to form their own opinions free from dogma, shaming and name-
calling. It was also hoped that a consensus position would serve as the basic building
block of an advocacy campaign to enlighten the public and work with law- and policy-
makers. A freer atmosphere for discussion of these issues should likewise help
legislators and policy-makers formulate genuinely responsive laws and policies without
fear of political retribution from institutions and interest groups.


About Us

Core Themes



Online Materials

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With funding support from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation*, PILIPINA initiated the
project "Publication of Policy Papers; Generating Public debate and Dialogue on Cutting
Edge Gender Issues". Initially, the project sought to accomplish the following:

To undertake leveling off discussions among key women leaders in PILIPINA and
other like-minded groups on the cutting edge issues affecting women particularly
on divorce, abortion and sexual orientation;

To document the discussions, consolidate and publish the discussion points into a
series of policy papers;

To conduct a public presentation on the policy papers and dialogue with key
policy- and opinion- makers.

The following activities were planned from May to December 2000: 2 round-table
discussions (the first, a leveling off discussion among PILIPINA National Council
members to set the parameters of the policy papers and the second, submission of the
draft policy papers to a group of experts for their critiques and comments), a national
policy forum to make a public presentation of PILIPINA’s positions on these crucial
issues and lastly the publication of the policy papers.

The project, however, was overtaken by the political events that shook the country,
starting with the escalation of the war in Mindanao and the unfolding drama which
eventually led to the RIO-ERAP (resign, impeach, oust Erap) movement.

As an organization with a strong thrust on transformative politics and good governance,
PILIPINA was drawn into this movement, particularly on the activities related to the
impeachment proceedings. Most of its resources and efforts were harnessed towards
this endeavor.

Other activities, including those related to this project took a backseat thereby
necessitating some adjustments:

1. The number of issues was reduced from three (3) to two (2), since the write
assigned to do the paper on sexual orientation was no longer available;

2. The round-table discussions with the groups of experts was cancelled since the
writing of the papers on the remaining 2 issues could not be finished in due time.
Instead, local fora to be conducted in five areas/chapters were conducted to
submit the draft policy papers for further leveling off and discussion;

3. The national policy forum/workshop was conducted for further leveling off, on 17
November 2000 at the Lakandula Room of the Sulo Hotel. This time other
women’s groups were invited. The public presentation was shelved momentarily,
since it was felt that discussion of the issues was still not exhaustive and that it
was not yet time to put forward our positions and proposals.

It was acknowledged that this initial process undertaken by PILIPINA has barely
scratched the surface in terms of the complexities and the many grey areas involved in
the issues. Nevertheless, it was also felt that it was the right step towards the time and
place when women can come out openly to express their views without fear of public
censure and sense of shame.

Policy Analysis of Proposed Legislation on Absolute Divorce in the Philippines

I. Definitions and Laws

Divorce is a legal remedy for a marriage that has deteriorated or in truth no longer

There are two types of divorce: (1) relative divorce , or what is more commonly known
as legal separation, means that the couple separates "from bed and board" but remain

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The social consequence of increasing the chances of divorce is felt in the instability of
the family and its corresponding psychosocial effects, especially on children. Briefly,
anti-divorce law proponents have argued that parental separation and forming new
family relationships with step-parents and siblings shatter children's sense of security
and stability. These constant rearrangement and readjustment of familial relationships
give children the notion that family is fluid and ties among its members are non-
permanent and easily dissolved. Taken altogether, the prevalence of such psychosocial
problems among children threatens the moral fabric of society and brings up
maladjusted and potentially harmful or destructive adults.

3. Socio-economic state of families:

One of the main arguments favoring absolute divorce hinges on allowing the spouses
the option to re-establish or regain for themselves and their children a peaceful and
happy family life. Arguments against absolute divorce, however, claim that re-
marriages tend to fail and that the rate of divorce among those who have already
remarried tend to be higher than first time divorces. It would seem that those who try
for remarriage have higher expectations of the new marriage, but with complex social
and economic situations, especially with stepchildren or new children in the subsequent
marriage, the chances for a stable and sustained marriage becomes ever more flimsy.

On the economic or financial side, the necessity to support children from previous
marriages as well as the present family puts undue strain on parents. Women, who
have separated from their husbands, feel the great financial responsibility of raising her
children. However, re-marriages put spouses in different situations of financial
obligations that may not meet expectations, particularly for low and middle-income
families. Re-marriage, therefore, cannot meet the economic needs of families involved;
and most probably would add new burdens to the remarried adults.

4. Psycho-emotional health of children:

Anti-divorce advocates cite studies regarding the effects of divorce on children. Children
of divorce have been observed to have behavioral and emotional problems such as
being "impulsive, irritable and socially withdrawn…anxious and insecure" even years
after the marriage breakup. 19 More teenagers, particularly of single-parent families or
stepfamilies have sought psychological help; more "disturbed adolescent functioning" is
seen among teens of stepfamilies or of single-parent families, than of intact families.20

V. The Option for Divorce for Women’s Wellbeing

Women have the right to develop to their full potential and live happy, peaceful and
fulfilling lives. Women also need to have freedom to make choices that make them
more whole as individuals and helpful, responsible members of their community and
nation. In living fully and wholly, women also need to express love and share
themselves in service to another person or a group with whom they can grow in close,
supportive, loving relationships. Increasingly for many women, these relationships can
be developed and sustained even outside the traditional bonds of marriage, such as in
small communities living together and dedicated to a purpose, whether religious or
otherwise. Other forms or types of "families" have evolved in recent times and can no
longer be ignored, as they also provide stable, secure and nurturing environments for
individual and family growth and wellbeing.

If a marriage and a family are in crisis, what is the recourse for women? Legal
separation and annulment are recognized in the Family Code of the Philippines.
Declaration of void marriage or annulment allows a person to marry after it is legally
upheld in the judicial court.

The experience with the application of these laws shows, however, that:

Even if a condition for legal separation exists, the legal procedures cost way

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beyond what an ordinary income-earner, much less a poor woman, can afford.
This leads to the common status of de facto separated spouses and live-in (or so-
called common-law ) relationships.

Many couples seeking annulment resort to the condition of "psychological
incapacity" at the time of marriage (Art. 36 of The Family Code). While it
purportedly provides a broader basis for declaration of annulment, it is actually
still limiting and difficult to prove since the said incapacity must have existed at
the time of the marriage celebration. This is a costly and difficult process,
therefore, beyond the financial means of most women or men whose marriages
are irreparable.

Civil law should apply to all regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs. If a
specific law allows Muslims to divorce in recognition of their religious tenets, why can
non-Catholics and indigenous people not be accorded similar recognition, if their
respective religions allow divorce and re-marriage? Mature citizens should have a choice
to follow their conscience while respecting the rights of people who will be affected by
their decisions and actions. The function of civil law is to see to it that these rights are
protected but not to restrict one’s pursuit of wellbeing and fulfillment.

A law on absolute divorce need not be a threat to the stability of the family as a social
institution. If societal structures and conditions provide social, physical, economic,
cultural and spiritual support, stable families will thrive and continue. A law on absolute
divorce will simply be a legal remedy for individual failed marriages.

The importance of family as a foundation of a community and society can still be upheld
even with a divorce law. The Code of Muslim Personal Laws, for instance, emphasizes
that divorce can be granted if all other alternatives to reconcile the spouses have been
exhausted. Taking this cue, a proposed law on absolute divorce in the Philippines can
provide for:

creation of counseling and support programs to help couples decide if divorce is
the only option for their marital problems

reorientation of judicial processes (up to the barangay level) and the public
attorney's offices to explore other remedies prior to seeking or granting of
absolute divorce.

No woman would want out of a happy, supportive and fulfilling marriage. But if a
marriage is ridden with violence, abuse, oppression and deprivation for her and/or her
children, a woman owes it to herself and the children to get out. But her pursuit of
happiness and fulfillment does not end there. The right to rebuild family, regain self-
esteem and give of herself to loved ones, with an option to remarry, should be open to
her, within the bounds of the religious and cultural beliefs, which she freely and
responsibly chooses to follow.


* Although the Friedrich Ebert Foundation funded the project, PILIPINA claims sole
responsibility for the views and ideas presented in the papers.

1Art. 55, Family Code of the Philippines (E.O. No. 227) states: A petition for legal
separation may be filed on any of the following grounds:

1. Repeated physical violence or grossl y abusive conduct directed against the
petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner;

2. Physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to chan ge reli gious or
political affiliation;

3. Attempt of respondent to corrupt or indu ce the petitioner, a common child, or a
child of the petitioner, to engage in prosti tution or connivance in such corruption

Page 18


Burke, Cormac. "Marriage: Why Monogamous? Why Indissoluble?" Lecture given in
Nairobi, Kenya, on January 1979.

Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. "CBCP: No to Divorce Law," a position
paper presented on H.B. No. 6993, presented to the Committee on Revision of Laws,
House of Representatives, Congress of the Philippines, on May 19, 1999.

Feliciano, Myrna. The Filipina: A Historical Legal Perspective . Q.C., Philippines, 1994.

Imbong, Jo Aurea M. "The Disappearance of Family in a Culture of Divorce," a position
paper on H.B. 6993, presented to the Committee on Revision of Laws, House of
Representatives, Congress of the Philippines, on May 19, 1999.

Ortega, Manuel C., "House Bill No. 8443 (Submitted to the Committee on Revision of
Laws in substitution of House Bill No. 6993)" Republic of the Philippines, House of
Representatives, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Eleventh Congress, First Regular Session.

Paras, Edgardo. Civil Code of the Philippines, Annotated, 13th edition . 1994.

Pasimio, Renato R. Family Code of the Philippines, 1998 edition . Mandaluyong,
Philippines: National Book Store, 1998.

Pogrebin, Letty Cottin. Family Politics: Love and Power on an Intimate Frontier . New
York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1983.


PILIPINA wishes to thank those who contributed their time, efforts and resources to the

Veronica (Brownie/Ve) Fenix-Villavicencio and Rina Jimenez-David who, despite
their busy schedules and multiple concerns, took time off to articulate our views
and feelings on the issues;

PILIPINA members, as well as friends from other women’s organizations who
attended the local fora and national policy forum/workshop;

Our funding partner, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, particularly Dr. Rudolf Traub,
Tos Añonuevo, Anamer Escarez and Sherry Bautista for bravely supporting this
project and flexibly accommodating our requests for adjustments.


PILIPINA is a mass-based feminist organization which affirms the vision of a
transformed society in which both women and men shall possess dignity, autonomy and
equality. In this transformed society, wealth and resources are shared equitably; care
and nurture of persons are valued; and development is premised on sustainable
communities and global well-being.

Concretely, PILIPINA is working for women’s full participation in public governance, with
stress on public office and movements for social change. Feminist exercise of power and
leadership is: people-centered; enabling and nurturing; consensual; collective;
inclusive; effective, i.e., having one’s say and actualizing one’s will in every significant
discourse. While PILIPINA’s mission focuses on women and public power as the key
sphere of intervention, it does encompass the entire range of women’s concerns.

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It seeks to pursue the following goals:

1. A women’s constituency that will hold public officers accountable through the
exercise of a women’s vote;

2. A qualitative increase in the number of gender-sensitive women leaders in

elective public offices at all levels
appointive positions in strategic government bodies
key social movements; and

3. Mainstreaming and institutionalization of the women’s agenda as manifested in

Adoption by social movements of gender equality as an operating principle.
Enactment of laws and policies on reproductive rights, violence against women,
economic rights of women and other primary concerns of women.
Serious consideration and adoption of the women’s agenda by political parties.

4. Establishment of support systems, particularly for women with multiple burdens
in communities, and for women in leadership.

5. Research, documentation and popularization of baseline data and information on
women. This shall also highlight models of and experiences in the feminist
exercise of power and leadership.

Published by PILIPINA
Supported by

The publication of this manual was made possible through the support of the Friedrich
Ebert Stiftung (FES).

PILIPINA, however claims sole responsibility for the views and ideas presented in this

Room 303, PSSC Building, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines

Tel/fax no.: (0632) 927-6349
E-mail: [email protected]


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