Philippine poor pay the price for Catholic church influenced divorce ban

A group of Filipino faithful hold a banner as they take part in a “Walk for Life” protest at a park in Manila. Heavily Catholic Philippines and the Vatican are the last two places on Earth where divorce is outlawed. (AFP)
Updated 15 March 2018

Philippine poor pay the price for Catholic church influenced divorce ban

MANILA: For well-off people like politician Pantaleon Alvarez, getting out of a bad marriage in the Philippines is pricey but feasible — but for the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens it is nearly impossible.
That’s because heavily Catholic Philippines and the Vatican are the last two places on Earth where divorce is outlawed.
For the nation’s 100 million people, the only exit from a union gone wrong is an embarrassing — and labyrinthine — process that often amounts to a luxury.
But lawmakers, including Alvarez, have launched a new legislative effort to legalize divorce which activists believe could transform the lives of impoverished women trapped in toxic marriages.
The bill has been propelled forward by Alvarez, who is speaker in the lower House of Representatives and an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In an interview with AFP, he said ending his first marriage cost him a million pesos ($19,200), which is more than triple what an average family in the Philippines makes in a year.
Like thousands of Filipinos, he did it through a civil procedure called annulment, whereby a judge declares a marriage invalid, generally because the spouses had a “psychological incapacity.”
It requires applicants to undergo a mental exam, testify in court and sometimes even claim they or their spouse entered the union with a disorder like narcissism.
The process can take anywhere from one to 10 years to wind through the creakingly slow and overburdened Philippine court system, costing at least $4,800.
Since 1999 lawmakers have regularly filed a bill to legalize divorce, only to see it languish in committee limbo — until now.
For the first time ever, House of Representatives lawmakers are poised to approve the bill after backing it in preliminary votes. It would then head to the Senate where it faces opposition from conservative members.
However, the bill enjoys rare bipartisan support, a sign Alvarez says of the urgency of addressing broken marriages.
“It’s a badge of stupidity because we are the only nation that does not see the problem,” Alvarez, 60, said.
The legislation would allow divorce and exempt poor people from legal fees, listing domestic violence, attempts to engage a spouse in prostitution and irreconcilable differences among the grounds for splitting up.
Not surprisingly, the country’s powerful Catholic Church, which counts about 80 percent of Filipinos as followers, has fiercely opposed the bill.
“It is not according to the scriptures, to the will of God and it does not help,” Manila bishop Broderick Pabillo said.
The church fought a pitched but ultimately unsuccessful battle in 2012 to halt a law providing free contraceptives to poor couples and teaching sex education in schools.
It has also backed an existing ban on abortion and gay marriage.
Surveys show a majority of Filipinos have supported legalizing divorce since 2014.
At the same time the number filing for annulments has grown steadily in the past decade, hitting over 10,000 in 2017, according to government statistics.
“Filipinos have become more open. They’ve been exposed to norms from other countries,” said Jean Franco, political science assistant professor at the University of the Philippines.
But with Catholic clergy lobbying and protesting against the bill, its final passage is uncertain.
The country’s outspoken leader Duterte, whose own marriage was annulled, has yet to wade into the debate.
Although he spoke in favor of upholding the ban during his 23 years as mayor of the southern city of Davao, he is mercurial on social issues.
A longtime critic of the church, Duterte voiced support for gay marriage in 2015, only to backtrack after securing the presidency in 2016, before endorsing it yet again last December.
He also has plenty on his plate, with international war crimes prosecutors launching a preliminary probe into his deadly war on drugs, which has also aroused the ire of the church.
Campaigners say the bill could offer a lifeline to women trapped in violent marriages.
“Divorce is a woman’s issue, especially for poor women who are being abused because it could provide them an out legally,” Elizabeth Angsioco, national chairwoman of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines, said.
For women like Melody Alan who says she has endured 14 years of abuse from an unfaithful, alcoholic husband, the ban cannot be overturned soon enough.
“He strangled me, pushed me against a wall. I was crying and screaming. I couldn’t breathe,” Alan, secretary-general of the Divorce Advocates of the Philippines, said.
Alan, 44, said her husband agreed to accept an annulment if she paid for it — something she could in “no way” afford while raising four kids.
In 2010 she separated from her husband, who now has two children with another woman, but they remain legally married.
“I will file for divorce to get freedom (to say) that this is who I am now,” she said. “I can start anew.”

France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

Updated 19 September 2020

France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

  • Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a ‘double standard’ by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members

JEDDAH: France on Friday backed Cyprus’ calls for the EU to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey if the Turkish government won’t suspend its search for energy reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive economic rights.

French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said sanctions should be among the options the 27-member bloc considers employing if Turkey continues to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state.”

“But we consider that the union should also be ready to use all the instruments at its disposal, among them one of sanctions, if the situation didn’t evolve positively,” Beaune said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia.

A European Parliament resolution has called for sanctions against Turkey unless it showed “sincere cooperation and concrete progress” in defusing tensions with Greece and Cyprus.

Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now analyst at Carnegie Europe, said the resolution reflected the views of a democratically elected parliament from across the bloc. “This is not ‘country X against country Y,’ it is the aggregated view of the European Parliament,” he told Arab News.

EU leaders are set to hold a summit in a few days to discuss how to respond to Turkey prospecting in areas of the sea that Greece and Cyprus insist are only theirs to explore.

Turkey triggered a naval stand-off with NATO ally Greece after dispatching a warship-escorted research vessel in a part of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece says is over its continental shelf. Greece deployed its own warship and naval patrols in response.

Greek and Turkish military officers are also holding talks at NATO headquarters to work out ways of ensuring that any standoff at sea doesn’t descend into open conflict.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey’s withdrawal of its survey ship and warship escorts was a positive step, but that Greece needs to make sure Ankara is sincere.

He said a list of sanctions will be put before EU leaders at next week’s summit and whether they’ll be implemented will depend on Turkey’s actions. “I’m hoping that it won’t become necessary to reach that point,” Dendias said.

Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a “double standard” by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud and police brutality while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members.

Meanwhile, the EU is set to announce sanctions on Monday against three companies from Turkey, Jordan and Kazakhstan which are accused of violating a UN arms embargo on Libya, diplomats told AFP.