• Rep. Edcel Lagman said the proposed bill was for couples in a "toxic and irreparably dysfunctional" marriage
  • The Philippines was the only country, besides the Vatican, to have not made divorce legal
  • Catholic leaders in the country have expressed opposition for legalizing divorce

A House of Representatives panel has approved a proposed bill seeking to reinstitute absolute divorce in the Philippines, marking a significant milestone in the only remaining country besides the Vatican to ban it.

"The approval of the substitute bill on absolute divorce for eventual plenary debates assures that the country is now at the threshold of joining the universality of absolute divorce in the community of nations," Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said in a statement regarding the unnumbered bill's early victory that saw a 12-0 vote Tuesday.

"Spouses, especially wives, will soon have the option of getting out of an irremediably broken marriage and get a new lease on life with the approval by the House Committee on Population and Family Relations," Rep. Lagman said.

Lagman went on to note that the substitute bill approved by the panel used his House Bill No. 78 as a template, tagging it as "almost a replica" of the one that moved past the third and final reading during the 17th Congress, but was stalled at the 18th Congress during the pandemic.

While the substitute bill has yet to get an official number, Lagman said it is currently being called the proposed Absolute Divorce Act, which will allow couples in a "collapsed" and irreparable marriage "without any possibility of reconciliation" to undergo a judicial process after filing a divorce petition.

The petition will be dismissed at any time during the judicial proceedings if the involved parties agree to reconcile. Also, the absolute divorce decree will be nullified if the couple decide to reconcile even after the issuance of the decree.

However, colluding parties, if any, will get "harsh penalties," including the possibility of imprisonment of up to five years.

For Lagman, divorce "is an option" for aggrieved Filipino couples as it is "mandated to be expeditious, reasonable, and inexpensive."

The Albay congressman added that other separation options in the Philippines such as annulment of marriage and legal separation were all expensive and involved very lengthy processes.

Lagman previously clarified that divorce should only be applicable "in exceptional cases for couples who have toxic and irreparably dysfunctional marriages."

On critics who view divorce as the worst thing that could happen to a family, Lagman said what's worse is to allow broken marriages to continue through "years of physical violence, suffering emotional abuse, tolerating infidelity" just to keep an oath, as per Inquirer.

Aside from the Vatican, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, the Philippines was the only country holding out in terms of banning divorce.

While the Duterte administration has established its stance of opposition to divorce, the new government under President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. appears to be more open to this separation option.

During the 2022 campaign period, Marcos Jr. said he was open to the idea of legalizing divorce in the Philippines, but added the processes involved should not be made easy as some marriages can still be fixed.

Some Catholic bishops have previously expressed opposition to any bills that would move the legalization of divorce forward. Other Catholic leaders believe there was a need for more discussion on the matter.

More than 86% of the Filipino people are Roman Catholics, as per data from non-profit Asia Society Philippine Foundation. The Catholic Church permits annulment of marriage, but Pope Francis has called for more openness toward divorced and remarried Catholics.

Representative image of Catholic wedding practices. Julita Pasja1000/Pixabay