Edcel Lagman sees smooth sailing of divorce bill in 19th Congress

Edcel Lagman sees smooth sailing of divorce bill in 19th Congress
Rep. Edcel Lagman —PTVNEWS.PH PHOTO

The prime mover of the divorce bill in Congress is making a bold prediction: The predominantly Catholic Philippines will soon and finally join the rest of the world in making divorce possible for troubled married couples.

“I’m confident that as the sun rises tomorrow this bill will be enacted into law,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman (1st district), author and principal advocate of the divorce bill in the House of Representatives.

Lagman’s confidence stems from his reading that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration and the current crop of lawmakers are more open and liberal-minded about divorce than past administrations. He also said the Catholic Church is less active in lobbying against the divorce bill compared to when it vehemently opposed the reproductive health (RH) bill that indeed ended up in the dustbin of Congress.

The Philippines and Vatican City, the seat of the Catholic Church, are the only two states in the world where divorce is prohibited. 

At present, a Filipino couple in a troubled marriage may embark on legal separation or annulment to end their union—usually lengthy and expensive options, and with only the grant of annulment allowing them to remarry.

Since the 8th Congress, lawmakers in both the Senate and the House had been seeking to legalize divorce in the country, but the passage of the enabling measure remained elusive.

Up until Congress went on recess last week, lawmakers were debating on House Bill No. 9349 or the Absolute Divorce bill. It is now before the plenary, having been revived by House leaders after almost a year in the doldrums. 

HB 9349 was approved last year by the House committee on population and family relations but it was sent back for review. Speaker Martin Romualdez gave the go-signal this month for its sponsorship and deliberation in the plenary.

Additional grounds

The measure basically provides for additional grounds for divorce including: de facto separation of the spouses for at least five years; judicially declared legal separation of at least two years; gender reassignment or sex transition by one of the spouses; other forms of domestic or marital abuse to include physical violence, psychological and emotional violence, sexual violence, and economic abuse; irreconcilable differences under stringent conditions of a) substantial incompatibility of the spouses due to their intransigence or fault by holding on to divergent and divisive behavior, b) total breakdown of the marriage, and c) the broken marriage being beyond repair despite efforts to reconcile; valid foreign divorce obtained either by the alien or Filipino spouse; and religious nullification of marriage.

It has undergone seven interpellations. Four more lawmakers have enlisted for interpellation when Congress resumes its session next month, according to Lagman.

Speaking to CoverStory.ph by phone, Lagman was hopeful that when lawmakers return on April 29, they will be able to approve the divorce measure on second and, eventually, third and final reading.

Lagman said he was confident about the passage of HB 9349 because unlike in the past Congresses, the environment has changed and there is finally someone—in this case, himself—leading the charge to get it approved: “Walang bastonero noon.” 

He said he had put much energy and effort in pushing for the approval of the divorce measure, which he filed after the RH bill failed to pass in Congress.

At present, there are 75 House members who want to be co-authors of the measure, and others have assured him of their vote for its passage, Lagman said.

On the other hand, he said, he has advised those lawmakers who may get into trouble with their local bishops for their pro-divorce stance that they can always abstain from voting. Still, he said, some of them may vote for the bill in the end.

But Lagman observed that Church authorities are not as opposed to the divorce measure “compared to their activism and criticism during the debates on the RH bill.”

He cited the Church’s own “canonical divorce,” and pointed out that dissolution of marriage based on the spouses’ psychological incapacity was incorporated in the Family Code under Article 36 after the Church’s lobby and influence over its addition.

‘Amoris Laetitia’

Lagman also reiterated his earlier statement that Pope Francis himself had a liberalized stance on divorce and divorcees.

In “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love), he said, the Pope cited the need for the clergy to be “compassionate to divorcees and allow them to receive Holy Communion because the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Lagman expounded on this point at the Catholic Business Forum in February 2020, saying Pope Francis “reaffirms and emphasizes the Catholic teachings on the primacy of conscience and that divorced Catholics who remarry might not be guilty of the mortal sin of adultery.”

“Amoris Laetitia even opens up the possibility of access to sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist for divorced Catholics,” Lagman said in that forum.

So why does it seem that the local Church is not taking action on the Pope’s statements on divorce?

“The Catholic Church in the Philippines is still the descendant of Damaso. They are more popish than the Pope,” Lagman said. He was referring to the fictional Spanish friar Damaso in Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere,” who is critical of and discriminatory to Filipinos during the Spanish colonial rule.

According to Lagman, the fact that all Catholics in Christian countries, except the Philippines and the Vatican, have legitimized divorce is “a testament that divorce is not against the dogma of the Church and it does not offend the Catholic faith.”

He said the Church is not as active in opposing the divorce bill compared to the way it campaigned against lawmakers pushing for the RH bill who, he remarked, were “demonized” because the measure was equated to abortion. But this is not correct, he pointed out, saying: “As a matter of fact, RH reduces the number of abortion and the number of unplanned children and unplanned births.” 

Need to be rescued

Further defending the divorce bill, Lagman said marriage is after all “physically a human institution, and it is subject to human frailty and moral misgivings.”

“I would often say that marriages are supposed to be solemnized in heaven but irretrievably many marriages plummet into hell, and the government as well as the Church should be able to take care of families, of spouses and of children, in houses on fire. They need to be rescued,” he said.

It’s not divorce that destroys a marriage, he said, because “the marriage has long perished before the divorce proceedings start.”

Citing the Supreme Court case Te vs Te, Lagman said “the dissolution of a marriage is a merciful interment of a long-dead union.”

“It’s not divorce that is destroying a marriage but infidelity, abandonment, cruelty, violence—these are the monsters which destroy a marriage,” he said. “It’s not divorce; divorce is the rescuing factor.” 

Lagman said the divorce bill is actually a “pro-women legislation” because the majority of those needing a divorce are “the abused wife, the abandoned wife, the physically violated wife.”

He said this is backed with police reports and other records and data showing the prevalence of violence of husbands on their wives. He observed that while “marital violence does not choose the class because there is marital violence in high society,” marital violence on women is more prevalent in lower-income families.

Lagman said the text of HB 9349 may be very similar in versions in past Congresses but is “more extended and stricter in a sense that we don’t allow no-contest divorce, drive-through divorce, or email divorce.”

Unlike legal separation and annulment that cost hundreds of thousands of pesos and tend to be lengthier in process, the state is mandated in the divorce bill to make divorce “affordable and expeditious,” Lagman said.

“The judge has to render the decision within one year of the cooling period of 60 days,” he said. “It is affordable because we have the court-assisted petitioner and, to them, this is cost-free—no filing fees, no judicial cost—and the judge will give the official attorney and provide experts like the psychiatrist and social worker.” 

For those who can afford divorce costs, Lagman expressed willingness to accept an amendment to the bill in order to fix the cost at not more than P50,000, including acceptance, appearance and success fees.

But the petitioner and the counsel can agree to higher attorney’s fees, he said.


Lagman is also confident that the House will pass the measure because it is now composed of younger lawmakers. “The younger the representative is, the more liberal-minded the representative is,” he said, adding that the bill is “youth-influenced” and “acceptable to the youth.”

He said that during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration, she had “the most ambivalent” stance on the divorce bill. As for the present administration, he expressed belief that President Marcos is more favorable to the measure—a “clear sign” being, he said, that Speaker Romualdez allowed its revival after being held “in limbo.”

“I think the President realizes that we have not yet caught up with other countries that have legitimized divorce,” he added.

Asked about the chances that the Senate will pass its version of the divorce bill, Lagman said the measure in that chamber is now ripe for plenary deliberations because it has been passed at the committee level as well.

Lagman said that when the House approves HB 9349 on final reading, he would meet with Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva who, like his father, Cibac partylist Rep. Eddie Villanueva, is opposing the measure.

He said he would ask Villanueva, who chairs the Senate committee on rules, to set aside “personal persuasions” and allow the senators to vote on the bill.

Lagman is equally confident that senators would vote for the divorce bill given that Vicente Sotto III, a former Senate president and a staunch defender of the Church, is no longer in the chamber.

“I think the 19th Congress will see the enactment of the divorce law in the Philippines,” Lagman declared.

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