Bernardo M. Villegas
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Need for Evidence Based Legislation (Part 2)

          The Duterte Administration is admirably waging a serious battle against mass poverty.  Over the last five years, the poverty incidence has fallen from 23% to16%, a significant accomplishment.  There is greater confidence that come 2022 that figure could even be single digit.  There is a fly in the ointment, though.  If we introduce divorce, the evidence in countries with a divorce law shows that divorce and unmarried childbearing increase poverty for both children and mothers.   Divorced mothers are 2.83 times more likely to be in poverty than those who are in stable marriages.  Furthermore, divorce creates distance between parents and children, even compared to children living in married but unhappy families.  Finally, the institution of divorce leads to a vicious circle:  growing up outside an intact and stable marriage increases the likelihood that children will themselves divorce or become unwed parents.  All the findings indicate that the most unfortunate victims of divorce are the hapless children who are still too young to defend themselves.  No wonder, President Duterte is against a divorce law.  He is thinking first and foremost of the welfare of children.

         It is now in the hands of the Senators to say No to divorce.  They should expose the fallacy of those who claim that divorce is necessary to give a second chance to people in an unhappy marriage.  Once again, the data on divorce in the U.S. and elsewhere give the lie to this claim.  Divorcees are not happier.  Unhappily married adults who divorce or separate are no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married.    What is more, divorcees tend to have greater failure in subsequent marriages.  Second and third marriages have a higher rate of failure than the first.  While 50% of first marriages end in divorce in the U.S., the rate is 67% for second marriages and 73% for third marriages.

         Given all these findings based on hard evidence or data, it would be wise for our legislators and other public officials to look for alternative solutions to marriage problems which do not entail going against the Constitutional provision mandating the State to strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution and to protect the inviolable institution of marriage as the foundation of the family.   The law enabling the declaration of nullity of marriage should be given more teeth.  The State should facilitate the process of the declaration that there was never a marriage in the first place.  Civil law should immediately recognize the declaration of nullity by religious courts.  Short of breaking the valid bond of marriage, couples in gravely intolerable situations can go through therapeutic separation.   As a preventive measure, there should be more effective marriage or pre-nuptial preparation.  It is heartening to note that there are numerous private groups, both religious and secular, that are involved in giving pre-nuptial seminars to those contemplating marriage.  A healthy trend is that, at least among middle class couples, marrying age is getting later and later, which may lead to greater psychological maturity of those who tie the marital bond.   There should also be more government support for programs in effective marriage therapy, helping those couples undergoing troubled marriages.

         The State, in complying with the constitutional mandate of strengthening the institution of marriage should consider legislation that provides:

         -Tax deduction for each new child, and not limited only to three or four.

         -Improved leave benefits for father and mother with newborn children.

         -Humane housing standards to accommodate larger families.  Socialized housing should always provide for at least three bedrooms, one for the parents, a second for the daughters and a third for the sons.

         -Flexible minimum wage to adjust to additional children.

         -Financial support for the education of children.  There are countries that support not just public education but also private schools so as to lessen the

tuition burden on parents.

         -GSIS and SSS benefits should be provided for additional children.

         Practically every positive assessment of the Philippine economy given by international financial institutions, credit rating agencies and think tanks point out that the greatest economic asset of the Philippines is a “young, growing, and English-speaking population.”  Our country stands in great contrast with the developed countries as well as some still developing countries like Thailand and China that are suffering from serious demographic declines because of very low fertility rates.  The engines of growth of the Philippine economy have much to do with this young, growing and English-speaking population, i.e. the more than ten million OFWs, the 1.2 million well-paid workers in the BPO-IT sector, and the large domestic market that shields us from the ups and downs of the global economy.  Strengthening the family and respecting the inviolable institution of marriage will go a long way in preventing the country from committing demographic suicide.

         All these considerations should lead us to hear the voice of Pope Francis.  In his Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love,” he asserted:  “The Church has always held it part of her mission to promote marriage and the family and to defend them against those who attack them, especially today, when they are given scarce attention in political agendas.  Families have the right to be able to count on an adequate family policy on the part of the public authorities in the juridical, economic, social and fiscal domains.  At times families suffer terribly when, faced with the illness of a loved one, they lack access to adequate health care, or struggle to find dignified employment.”  Instead of introducing the destructive force of divorce, our legislators should look for ways and means of strengthening family ties.  Indeed, the “family is a good which society cannot do without, and it ought to be protected.”  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.