Bernardo M. Villegas
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President Duterte`s Views on Divorce (Part 3)

          As we have seen in the first two parts of this article, it has been demonstrated in studies after studies in the Western world that divorce is associated with poverty, depression, substance abuse, and poor health among adults.  More broadly, widespread divorce—which inevitably results from a law facilitating the breaking of the permanent bond of marriage—poisons the larger culture of marriage, insofar as it sows distrust, insecurity, and a low-commitment mentality among married and unmarried adults.  Couples who take a permissive view of divorce are significantly less likely to invest themselves in their marriages and less likely to be happily married themselves.  For all these reasons, divorce threatens marriage, hurts children, and has had dire consequences for the nation as a whole.

         Another reason why a divorce law will be catastrophic is the very negative impact it will have on the already disadvantaged children of the married individuals among the more than 10 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).  When couples are separated because of the need for one of them to earn a living abroad, there are more than enough stresses on their marriages and on the children left behind.  In fact, this is a serious concern of the Government, civil society and the various churches that was the topic of a recent conference held at the University of Asia and the Pacific on how to keep the families of OFWs intact.  With a divorce law, the easy way out for the separated couples, who face myriad challenges to their marriage, would be to seek the dissolution of the marriage bond.  The slightest temptation to infidelity of either spouse will hardly be resisted if the lonely spouse knows that he or she can easily break the marriage bond through divorce.  As Archbishop Valles wrote in the pastoral letter with great human wisdom, “Even couples in seemingly successful marriages would often look back and recall the countless challenges that had almost brought their relationships to a breaking point if they had not learned to transcend personal hurt though understanding and forgiveness, or through the intervention of a dialogue facilitator such as a marriage counsellor.  In a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriage and families are bound to break up more easily.”  The toxic combination of the phenomenon of OFWs with a divorce law can easily result in an epidemic of marriage breakdowns,  especially among the poorer households, further prejudicing millions of children who are already handicapped by economic deprivation. 

         Instead of legalizing divorce, there should be efforts on all fronts (Government, civil society, and the various religious denominations) to educate and counsel married couples on how to constantly strengthen their marital relationships and to overcome the numerous challenges to their mutual love brought about by financial difficulties, clashes of personalities and opinions, challenges in the upbringing of their children, etc.   The Department of Social Welfare, the Department of Education and the various agencies devoted to the welfare of OFWs should partner with the numerous family-oriented NGOs like the Couples for Christ, Marriage Encounter, the CEFAM of the Ateneo University, Ligaya ng Panginoon, Bukas Loob, Educational Programs for the Upbringing of Children (EDUCHILD), Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF) and many others so that there can be timely intervention and counselling made available to married couples, and even before they get married in pre-nuptial seminars and conferences.  An ounce of prevention is much better than a pound of cure.

         In fact, many of these private initiatives are targeting the poor in helping them overcome the usual difficulties they encounter in their married lives.  And for those poor couples who have legitimate reasons to seek for the declaration of annulment of their marriage, some of these NGOs give legal assistance so that they can overcome the financial difficulties of doing so.  I can cite, for example, the case of the Asian Institute for Marriage and the Family (AIMF) founded by Noel Gamboa and Fr. Jaime Achacoso, an expert on marriage laws.  AIMF has a mission of accompanying dysfunctional or problematic marital situations at all social levels by helping regularize irregular family situation by examining the possibility of seeking the declaration of nullity of a previous canonical marriage, or to proceed to the celebration of a valid canonical marriage for the existing and functioning union.  Especially for poor couples, they carry out this initiative through a pool of 200 trained prejudicial law counsellors and a legal aide center for marriage law.  For more info, email aimarriagefamily@gmail.com.  A more constructive thing that the lawyers among the members of the House of Representatives who voted for the divorce law can do is use their legal expertise to establish NGOs like AIMF to extend assistance to the poor who are seeking the declaration of nullity of their marriages.  At the same time, I know for a fact that the Catholic Church authorities are doing everything within their ability to simplify the process of getting an annulment.  These are the more sensible measures that should replace the passing of a divorce law, which can only inflict serious harm on children and on Philippine society as a whole.

         In the final analysis, the example to keep a marriage intact should come from individual married couples whose faith tells them that the marriage bond is indissoluble, that they have committed themselves to be united till death do they part.  In this regard, I would like to cite the edifying example given by the lead character in the recent musical blockbuster, “The Greatest Showman” starring Hugh Jackman.  Without meaning to be a spoiler, the movie had a happy ending for the family of P.T. Barnum, his wife Charity and their two daughters Caroline and Helen because the father of the family was able to resist all the temptations of honor, human glory and passion (attraction to the beautiful Swedish singer Jenny Lind) strongly motivated by his great love for his two precious daughters.  Here, P.T. Barnum should represent all of us who are supporting the view of President Duterte:  that saying No to Divorce will redound to the benefit of numerous children who will be spared the agony of seeing their parents separated.  So, together with Jenny Lind let us sing “Never Enough” of stable, intact and lasting marriages in the Philippines.  With her, too, we can raise our voices crying out: “Never, Never, Never” to Divorce in unison with the honorable Senators who will vote No to the Divorce Law.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.