By Filane Mikee Cervantes

MANILA – The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on the third and final reading a bill reinstituting absolute divorce in the country.

With 131 affirmative votes, 109 negative votes, and 20 abstentions, the chamber passed House Bill (HB) 9349, or the proposed Absolute Divorce Act.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, author of the bill, said its third reading passage signifies a significant shift in societal attitudes towards marriage and relationships.

Lagman said by legalizing divorce, the Philippines acknowledges the need to provide options for individuals trapped in “unhappy and irreparable marriages”.

“As the only country in the world besides the Vatican where divorce is still illegal, this is a clear and resounding victory and signals the imminent liberation for Filipino wives who are entombed in toxic, abusive, and long-dead marriages,” Lagman said.

Lagman clarified that the bill does not recognize “no-fault, quickie drive-thru, email or notarial divorces” as there are limited and reasonable grounds for divorce and a petition will have to undergo judicial scrutiny to prevent abuse and collusion of the parties.

The bill stipulates the grounds for absolute divorce, which include psychological incapacity, irreconcilable differences, domestic or marital abuse, when one of the spouses undergoes a sex reassignment surgery or transitions from one sex to another, and separation of the spouses for at least five years.

The grounds for legal separation under the Family Code of the Philippines can also be considered grounds for absolute divorce. These include:

–Physical violence or grossly abusive conduct directed against the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner;
–Physical violence or moral pressure to compel the petitioner to change religious or political affiliation;
–Attempt of respondent to corrupt or induce the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner, to engage in prostitution;
–Final judgment sentencing the respondent to imprisonment of more than 6 years;
–Drug addiction, habitual alcoholism, or chronic gambling;
–Homosexuality of the respondent;
–Contracting by the respondent of a subsequent bigamous marriage;
–Marital infidelity or perversion or having a child with another person other than one’s spouse during the marriage;
–Attempt by the respondent against the life of the petitioner, a common child, or a child of the petitioner; and
–Abandonment of petitioner by respondent without justifiable cause for more than one year

The following grounds for annulment of marriage under the Family Code of the Philippines are also grounds for absolute divorce: lack of parental consent; insanity; fraud, force, intimidation or undue influence; impotence; and sexually transmissible diseases.

The bill provides that a valid foreign divorce secured by either the foreigner or Filipino spouse has the effect of a divorce in the country without going through the judicial process.

A petition for absolute divorce shall be filed with the proper family court by the petitioner or joint petitioners within 10 years from the occurrence or discovery of the cause for divorce.

The proper family court shall exercise all efforts to reunite and reconcile the concerned spouses during the mandatory 60-day cooling-off period after the filing of the petition.

The cooling-off period shall not apply in cases involving acts of violence against women and their children or attempt against the life of the other spouse, or a common child, or a child of the petitioner.

Upon expiration of the cooling-off period without the parties having reconciled, the court shall immediately commence trial and is mandated to decide the petition within one year.

Lagman said at any time during the proceedings, if the parties agree to reconcile, the petition is dismissed.

Even after the issuance of an absolute divorce decree, when the parties decide to reconcile, the divorce decree shall be nullified.

The decree of absolute divorce shall have the effect of judicial dissolution of a marriage where the divorced spouses return to their status of being single with the right to contract marriage again.

A divorce decree shall include provisions for the care, custody, and support of children, protection of their legitime (a person’s property that cannot be transferred to a stranger), termination and liquidation of the conjugal partnership of gains or the absolute community, and alimony for the offended spouse.

Medical cannabis

The House also passed on second reading through voice voting HB 10439, seeking to allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes to treat qualified patients who have certain medical conditions or symptoms.

In his sponsorship speech, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers assured that the bill is by “no means” a gateway to the recreational use of cannabis, stressing that it will only be available as a form of medical treatment.

Barbers said access to cannabis would only be available by prescription and medical supervision of an accredited medical cannabis physician.

He said cannabis-based medicines are legal in over 60 countries and being administered for the treatment of medical conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sleep disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines and other types of chronic pain.

He also cited studies showing that cannabis is “highly effective” in addressing the pain and suffering associated with the end stages of cancer.

“We cannot continue ignoring these facts, much less continue to deprive the Filipino people of the care they deserve because of our fears-our fear that cannabis will be abused, fear that it will be used for non-medical purposes or recreationally, or fear that we don’t have the capacity to establish a new industry,” Barbers said.

Barbers said the lack of medical marijuana legislation cost the country a “valuable opportunity to save, or at the very least, improve the lives of countless patients, who could have benefited from the healing wonders of medical cannabis”.

“To this day, patients suffering from debilitating illnesses and fighting to get access to cannabis-based medicines could only hope that our government will one day consider their plight and make cannabis available to them legally,” Barbers said.

The bill will establish a regulatory framework for the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution for medical and research purposes, prescribing, and dispensing to patients of medical cannabis.

The bill also proposes the creation of a Medical Cannabis Office under the control and supervision of the Department of Health. (PNA)