Legalization of divorce proposed in last Catholic country where it is prohibited

It’s the first time in the history of the Philippines that a divorce bill has reached plenary deliberations. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018

Legalization of divorce proposed in last Catholic country where it is prohibited

MANILA: A landmark bill was approved this week to legalize divorce in the Philippines, the last Catholic country where it is prohibited.
With the proposed bill titled “An Act providing for absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage”approved by the House of Representatives committee on population and family relations, it will now move to the plenary level.
It’s the first time in the history of the Philippines that a divorce bill has reached plenary deliberations.
However, the effort to legislate an absolute divorce law faces diminishing prospects in the Senate, where several senators have already expressed opposition to such measure.
Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III even pointed out that not one of his colleagues had bothered to file a counterpart bill in the upper chamber.
Several senators are also thumbing down the proposal to introduce divorce in the country. Instead of divorce, they are battling for a “simplified” annulment law that would make the process affordable and accessible to ordinary Filipinos.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the only bachelor among members of the Senate, stressed that he doesn’t believe in a “drive-through” divorce like the one in the United States.
“What we need is a clear and reasonable process for our constituents to follow,” he said, noting that the current process of separation in the Philippines is expensive and difficult to follow.
Senator Joel Villanueva, son of an evangelist, also said he is strongly against divorce, but would push for an annulment law that is “simplified and not anti-poor.”
Senator Francis Escudero, likewise, said he favors a measure that will make the existing process of annulment under the civil code and the family code more affordable and accessible to all. Escudero himself has undergone an annulment process with his first wife.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he is not totally opposed to a divorce bill but would first like to see the salient features of the House version of the proposed measure.
“My primary concern is the sanctity of marriage. Needless to say, I don’t want marriage and separation to be a ‘dime a dozen’ affair,” he said.
So far, only Senator Risa Hontiveros has signified her support for the enactment of the bill. “If and when one is filed, I will actively participate because it is going to be a very important deliberation,” she said.
Meanwhile, church leaders expressed disappointment over the passage of the bill before the lower house, as they reiterated their stance against divorce.
“Divorce is a direct affront to the law ordained by God and specifically reiterated by our Lord Jesus Christ. The destruction of families by divorce is indeed a project of Satan, the enemy par excellence of God,” said Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines permanent committee on public affairs, also criticized approval of the bill.
“By passing this measure, Congress betrays its mandate to protect our country’s legally and morally declared social and inviolable institutions!” Secillano posted on his Facebook account.
Save for the Vatican, the Philippines is the only Catholic country in the world where divorce is forbidden.
This, however, had not been a guarantee to keep many marriages intact and husbands faithful to their wives. Several politicians are also known to be philanderers.


As coronavirus spreads, Chinese president admits his country facing ‘grave situation’

Updated 26 January 2020

As coronavirus spreads, Chinese president admits his country facing ‘grave situation’

  • According to state broadcaster, virus death toll in China has reached 56
  • Experts question the effectiveness of airport screenings of passengers from China

SHANGHAI: More than 2,000 people have been infected with a new coronavirus, the vast majority in China where 56 people have died from it, and the United States said it will evacuate some of its citizens from the city at the center of the outbreak.
President Xi Jinping said during a politburo meeting on Saturday that China was facing a “grave situation,” as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.
The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France, and Canada.
On Sunday, China announced a nationwide ban on the sale of wildlife in markets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms. Wild and often poached animals packed together in Chinese markets are blamed as incubators for viruses to evolve and jump the species barrier to humans.
Snakes, peacocks, crocodiles and other species can also be found for sale via Taobao, an e-commerce website run by Alibaba.
The US State Department said it will relocate personnel at its Wuhan consulate to the United States and will offer a limited number of seats to private US citizens on a Jan. 28 flight to San Francisco.
The World Health Organization this week stopped short of calling the outbreak a global health emergency, but some health experts question whether China can continue to contain the epidemic.
On Sunday, China confirmed 1,975 cases of patients infected with the new coronavirus as of Jan. 25, while the death toll from the virus has risen to 56, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The outbreak has prompted widening curbs on movements within China, with Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on virtual lockdown, with transports links all-but severed except for emergency vehicles.
Health authorities in Beijing urged people not to shake hands but instead salute using a traditional cupped-hand gesture. The advice was sent in a text message that went out to mobile phone users in the city on Sunday morning.
Cancellation and mistrust
The outbreak has overshadowed the start of the Lunar New Year, which is typically a festive time of year, with public events canceled and many tourist sites shut. Many people on social media have been calling for the week-long holiday to be extended to help prevent further spread of the virus.
WeChat, China’s ubiquitous messaging app, warned that it could ban accounts spreading rumors.
China has called for transparency in managing the crisis, after a cover-up of the spread of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002/2003 eroded public trust, but officials in Wuhan have been criticized for their handling of the current outbreak.
“People in my hometown all suspect the real infected patients' number given by authorities,” said Violet Li, who lives in the Wuhan district where the seafood market is located.
“I go out with a mask twice a day to walk the dog — that’s the only outdoor activity,” she told Reuters by text message.
Many cinemas across China are also closed with major film premieres postponed, slashing revenues. Theaters in the country took in just 1.81 million yuan ($262,167) from tickets on Saturday, a tiny fraction of the 1.46 billion yuan on the Lunar New Year Day in 2019, according to data from movie-ticketing company Maoyan.
Cruise operators including Royal Caribbean Cruises, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, and Astro Ocean Cruises said that they canceled a combined 12 cruises that had been scheduled to embark from Chinese ports before February 2.
Virus spreading outside China
On Saturday, Hong Kong declared a virus emergency, scrapped celebrations and restricted links to mainland China.
Hong Kong Disneyland and the city’s Ocean Park theme park were closed on Sunday. Shanghai Disneyland, which expected 100,000 visitors daily through the Lunar New Year holidays, has already closed.
In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said on Saturday that flights and high-speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until Feb. 17.
On Saturday, Canada declared the first “presumptive” confirmed case of the virus in a resident who had returned from Wuhan. The patient, a male in his 50s, arrived in Toronto on Jan. 22 and was hospitalized the next day after developing symptoms of respiratory illness, officials said.
Australia confirmed its first four cases on Saturday, Malaysia confirmed four and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday.
The newly identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
There are fears transmission could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during the holiday, although many have canceled their plans and airlines and railways in China are providing full refunds for tickets.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, although some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings.
In an illustration of how such efforts could miss cases, doctors at a Paris hospital said two of the three Chinese nationals in France who have been diagnosed with the virus had arrived in the country without showing any symptoms.
A report by infectious disease specialists at Imperial College, London on Saturday said the epidemic “represents a clear and ongoing global health threat,” adding: “It is uncertain at the current time whether it is possible to contain the continuing epidemic within China.”