Philippines: World’s last legal ban on divorce doesn’t keep couples together

Updated 11 October 2014

Philippines: World’s last legal ban on divorce doesn’t keep couples together

MANILA — Just because the Philippines is the last country on Earth to refuse to allow divorce for most of its citizens, that doesn’t mean Filipinos don’t fall out of love with one another.
So what to do? One recourse for those who stray is to separate, move on to the next relationship — and live in sin. The alternative, in a country where the Catholic Church still wields enormous influence, is to follow a torturously convoluted — and for many, prohibitively expensive — path to an annulment.
Most of those who are unhappy or unfaithful don’t even try.
The absence of modern divorce laws looms large in the Philippines, a poor but rapidly transitioning society with a large migrant workforce and many transnational families. The church will stick to its guns on this issue, even as a synod that convened at the Vatican this week plans to take up the question of divorce, among other subjects.
As it stands, though, tens of thousands in the Philippines are stuck in difficult or dysfunctional marriages, torn between the teachings of their faith and a humiliating legal limbo.
An annulment, for those who pursue one, means the marriage never happened. It pits spouse against spouse — as divorce often does — but it also pits both against a church canon lawyer or a state prosecutor whose job it is to defend the sanctity of marriage.
Infidelity, desertion, physical or psychological abuse, irreconcilable differences or just the reality that two people simply can’t stand the sight of each other anymore — the usual reasons for divorce — cannot be considered in a civil annulment proceeding. It also helps to pay the judge a bribe — politely referred to as a “professional services fee” — to speed the process and guarantee a positive outcome.
“It’s a travesty of the justice system,” said Sen. Pia Cayetano, who said she speaks from experience and who has argued that divorce is a basic human right.
The church disagrees.
“Human rights are not absolute if they are against the plan of God,” said Monsignor Edgardo Pangan, a canon lawyer who handles church annulments for the Diocese of San Fernando.
For now, couples wanting out of a marriage can choose between a church annulment or a civil annulment; most opt for the latter. Either way, they must establish that there was some fatal impediment to the marriage from day one: that one or both were too young to get married, were coerced into the marriage, or — most common — were psychologically “incapacitated” at the time of the marriage.
But that presents its own hurdles.
Paolo Yap, 35, a graphic designer in Manila, separated from his then-wife in 2004 and stopped communicating with her entirely two years later. Three years ago, when he and his new partner decided they wanted to marry, Yap needed an annulment.
He hired a lawyer for 300,000 pesos ($6,700), but dismissed her when he realized it was going to cost at least twice that — a considerable sum in the Philippines. Next, he made a deal with a lawyer friend who agreed to take on the case in exchange for Yap’s services as a designer.
A psychologist was hired to certify “mental incapacity.” Yap was found to be “depressive” and “antisocial”; his wife was diagnosed as “narcissistic” and “histrionic.”
The Philippines became the only nation generally to forbid divorce in 2011, when the tiny Mediterranean nation of Malta, in a bitterly contested referendum, voted to allow it. Philippines law does allow divorce for the country’s Muslim minority — about 11 percent of the population.
A bill that would legalize divorce for all is before the legislature, but it does not have the support of President Benigno Aquino III, a bachelor and a practicing Catholic who declared divorce a “no-no” for this island nation.
Aquino took on the church in a politically bruising battle two years ago when he signed a reproductive-health law that provides subsidized contraceptives to poor women, and analysts here say is unlikely to challenge the Catholic hierarchy again anytime soon.
The church fathers in the Philippines take particular pride in the country’s status as the last holdout. “Yes, we are proud. It simply proves we have a Catholic conscience,” said Pangan, the canon lawyer.


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

Updated 58 min 27 sec ago

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.”