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Dubai: Filipino resident Jun and his first wife divorced in 2015. Divorce is not legal in their native country but they were nonetheless able to dissolve their marriage in the UAE.

Jun, who works in the automotive industry in Dubai, is one of the many Filipinos who strongly support House Bill No. 7303, popularly known as the Absolute Divorce Bill, that, if passed, will legalise divorce in the Philippines.

Lawmakers in the lower House approved the Bill in March. It has been sent to the Senate. If passed by both Houses in identical form, a signature by the Philippine president will make it the law. If he vetoes it, however, Congress can override the decision with a two-third vote by each House.

 No matter what happens, a husband and wife should stick together. Before getting hitched, a man and a woman [must] prepare themselves for their lifetime relationship.”

 - Art Los Banos | Manager, corporate communications 

Currently, the Philippines is one of two countries in the world where divorce is not legal. The other is the Vatican.

For Jun, married to his first wife for 12 years, though his divorce was finalised by the Dubai Courts three years ago, they are technically still married in the Philippines.

“Because the decision to separate was mutual and we didn’t have kids nor property in the equation, the divorce was finalised within a day. We got our divorce paper four days later,” Jun told Gulf News.

“After getting the divorce, we immediately filed for annulment [of our marriage] back home. It has been three years since and everything is still pending. We have also spent hundreds of thousands of pesos on this, including having to fly home when we have hearings,” he added.

Jun said he favours the divorce Bill because couples need to be given better options if their marriage no longer works.

“I have experienced both the process of divorce and annulment. I favour the former.”

If passed, the divorce Bill will give priority to overseas Filipino workers (OFW) like Jun with respect to the hearing of their petitions, depending on their availability, for not more than two consecutive days.

Attorney Barney Almazar, director of Gulf Law and counsel of some Filipinos seeking annulment and divorce in the UAE, said there are only two ways to dissolve marriages in the Philippines — through declaration of nullity of marriage or through annulment.

Annulment considers a marriage valid but there are limited grounds to nullify it such as “lack of parental consent if either party is below 21 years old, fraud, or the consent for marriage was obtained by force, intimidation or undue influence”.

A “declaration of nullity” of marriage, Almazar said, can be used for marriages that were never valid in the first place.

He said around four people seek his counsel every month for annulment.

 Marriage is a covenant not just between the husband, wife or a court, but with God. It should be protected but if there is domestic violence, that is unacceptable and must be dealt with legally.”

 - Dave Domingo | Father of one 

The Philippine Consulate-General solemnised 1,188 marriages in 2017 and received 390 Reports of Marriage or those solemnised outside the consulate. There are no statistics of annulment filings at the consulate, however, as they are filed in the Philippines.

The strongest clamour against divorce in the Philippines comes from church groups that cite the sanctity of marriage as the primary reason.

Art Los Banos, a corporate communications manager who is active with Couples for Christ in the UAE together with his wife, said marriage is a commitment for life.

“That it is a lifetime vocation so no matter what happens, a husband and wife should stick together. Before getting hitched, a man and a woman [must] prepare themselves for their lifetime relationship. Here in the UAE, couples undergo a session at St Mary’s and St Francis [churches] as well as in all other Catholic churches called the Marriage Preparation Course,” Los Banos told Gulf News.

He said differences and misunderstandings can be resolved if both parties are willing to work on them.

Dave Domingo, a father of one and a Christian believer, agreed and said fulfilling marriage vows should be taken seriously to make families a stronger part of the society.

“Marriage is primarily a covenant not just between the husband and the wife or a court, but it is ultimately a covenant with God, one we tend to set aside. I am pro-family. Marriage should be protected but if there is domestic violence, that is unacceptable and must be dealt with legally,” Domingo said.

Almazar said divorce is recognised by other religions in the Philippines, such as Islam through the Muslim Code. But it should not be limited to a particular religious group, he said.

“To me, laws are enacted for the citizens. The ultimate decision maker is the people and the state — it’s not based on religion. We are a government, we’re not a church. To churches that don’t prefer divorce, they can choose to teach their parishioners the values needed to keep a marriage intact. But they shouldn’t limit others outside their religion,” Almazar said.

(Jun’s full name was withheld upon request)