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HK Filcom supports divorce in PHL

16 October 2017

Members of the Committee on Population and Family Relations listen to the views of Filipinos in Hong Kong.

By Daisy CL Mandap

It’s been a long time coming.

This was the overwhelming response from Filipino community leaders in Hong Kong, as they expressed support for a divorce law during a public hearing conducted by the Philippine House of Representatives at the Consulate on Oct. 1.

Of about a dozen leaders who spoke at the hearing led by Rep. Sol Aragones, chair of the Committee on Population and Family Relations, only two spoke out against allowing divorce.

Everyone else, from those representing militant organizations like Unifil-Migrante HK to non government organizations Mission for Migrant Workers, sectoral groups like Hong Kong Musicians Union, and media companies like The SUN, openly supported a divorce law.

Joining Aragones at the public hearing were House deputy speakers Pia Cayetano and Raneo Abu, committee vice chairperson Ma. Lourdes R. Aggabao, and representatives Teddy Baguilat, Jr., Emmi de Jesus and Aniceto Bertiz III.

Consul General Bernardita Catalla expressed gratitude that the first public consultation on divorce outside of the Philippines, was held in Hong Kong.

“Ibig sabihin ay binibigyan tayo ng importansiya ng ating gobyerno, lalo na sa napaka importanteng issue na ito, lalong lalo na sa mga OFWs, lalo na sa Hong Kong,” she said.

Congen Catalla said there’s a growing number of overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong who are seeking an annulment of their marriage. For the past two years at least, she said between three and five OFWs submit documents for notarization by the Consulate, to support such applications.

Another indication was that the legal issues often brought up by OFWs during outreach consultations in Hong Kong by lawyers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines pertain to annulment, legal separation, property dissolution and custody over children.

Seven House bills were presented to the Filipino community for consideration, but only two provided for absolute divorce.

The first, authored by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, proposed adopting the current grounds for legal separation under art 55, and annulment of marriage under art 45 of the Family Code, as grounds for absolute divorce.

His bill also points out that the Philippines has a long history of divorce, and it was outlawed only in 1950 when the Family Code was introduced.

The other divorce bill filed jointly by Gabriela representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas is more liberal, in that it also allows for a no-fault divorce, when the spouses have been legally separated for at least five years.

This writer said in her submission that the Gabriela bill appeared to be the best solution to ending a marriage without much difficulty and expense, as it avoids the ticklish question of ascertaining who between the spouses is at fault.

However, a three-year separation instead of five might be enough for a married couple to know if they really want out of their union.

This author also called for having a divorce law that is inexpensive and fast, to better serve OFWs who are hard-pressed for money, and do not have a lot of time to spend attending court hearings and talking to lawyers.

Cynthia Abdon, who represented the Mission for Migrant Workers, attested to the big number of OFWs with family problems. Of the 2,000 cases referred to them each year, she said between 8 and 10% pertain to family relationships.

She also spoke of women OFWs who are forced to endure years of abuse or infidelity because divorce is out of their reach.

“This is an issue dear to women migrants as it seriously affects their ability to be productive members of society. This is an issue that will instill in women migrants that there is hope after a terrible marriage. This an issue that will uphold what is just and right,” she said.

The most vocal opposition to divorce came from the representative of Chaplaincy for Filipinos in
Hong Kong. 

She said divorce would encourage couples to be lax in their commitment to their marriage, that it would lead to abuses, especially of women, and it would encourage infidelity and affect the emotional and moral formation of the children.

At the end of the three-hour hearing, Rep. Cayetano said they will consider conducting another public consultation overseas to have a better idea of what overseas Filipinos think about divorce.

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