Manila: Two women lawmakers who belong to a militant-sectoral party at the House of Representatives have filed a Bill seeking the legalisation of divorce in the Philippines, a Catholic country, a radio report said.

“Divorce could actually provide protection to battered women and their children from further violence and abuse,” Gabriela party-list Congresswomen Luzviminda Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus said in a statement.

Consultations with women lawyers, and studies of various women’s groups and spouses with marital problems gathered by the women’s party Gabriela inspired the filing of the divorce bill, said the two, adding the majority of battered women want to seek separation after years of trying to make their failed marriages work.

They cited a 2009 study which showed that 19 women were victims of marital violence every day.

The Philippine National Police also said that wife beating has reached a high of  6,738 a year.

“Couples must have the option to avail of the remedies that will pave the way for the attainment of their full human development and self-fulfillment and have protection of their human rights [despite having failed marriages],” said the two lawmakers, adding the existing laws are not enough to guarantee and protect these rights.

Several women said that Filipino men keep mistresses to the financial and emotional disadvantage of their wife.

In the proposed bill, the two lawyers said that divorce may be filed by a petitioner who has been separated from his or her spouse for at least five years and reconciliation is highly improbable; and by a petitioner who has been legally separated from his or her spouse for two years.

According to the proposed bill, a petitioner can file for divorce when any of the grounds for legal separation have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage; when one or both spouses are psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations; and when the spouses suffer from irreconcilable differences that have caused the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.

Divorce, the woman lawmakers said, will be an additional remedy to troubled marriages, in addition to legal separation and marriage annulments that the Philippine courts have allowed to prosper.

Congressman Ignacio Arroyo Jr, said in a radio interview that he supports the bill.

“Let’s join the 20th century with this bill,” Congressman Walden Bello of Akbayan said.

“Debates on the bill will bring out the real picture of the state of [the Philippine] family and how we can ensure and protect everyone’s rights,” said Congresswoman Milagros Magsaysay.

But Congressman Roilo Golez said the proposed bill would give married couples “a weapon of mass destruction that they can use against each other”.

“Legalising divorce might encourage or promote the destruction of families,” said Congressman Ben Evardone.

“Various churches in the Philippines will lobby against the bill. I still adhere to the Biblical saying that what God has joined together, let no man divide,” said Congressman Elpido Bargaza.

“There is an overwhelming majority of congresspersons who believe in the sanctity of the family and its preservation as the primary fabric of society,” said Congressman Federico Quimbo.

The majority of Filipinos belong to the Roman Catholic Church - which is against divorce.