Triggered by The Rundown 2016, an ABS-CBN News Channel and UP Economic Society program that aired live on January 29, here is another issue that one must take into consideration when deciding on who to vote for. The Rundown asked the first batch of its Senatorial candidates about their stand on divorce, and to have had only one senatorial candidate say yes to divorce among the many who were there, is just utterly disappointing.
Of course the show’s format was such that the second batch of Senatorial candidates were not asked the same questions as the first batch, which does make one wonder: how do you choose among these candidates when we don’t ask them about the same issues?
Kapunan as the only one
For the first batch of Senators who spoke at The Rundown, only one categorically stated that she was for no-fault divorce in the country: Atty. Lorna Kapunan.
“Ilang beses ba ninyo naisip na lasunin ang kape ng asawa ninyo? Sapagkat ang ating annulment law ay hindi madali. Alam ni Atty. Legarda na kapag pumunta kayo sa isang abogado, hindi mababa sa P100,000 pesos ang gastos diyan,” she said. She also lamented how psychological incapacity, which is really the only grounds to file for an annulment has been used and abused: “Yung maliit na kasalanan pinapalaki.”
And then it became clear that as far as the rest of these Senatorial candidates were concerned, the issue was really about the use of the word divorce, one that has a social stigma attached to it, but also a word that it seen to sacrifice our belief in marriage. Kapunan hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that annulment is divorce, just more difficult, just more expensive, just more violent in its insistence that a marriage never existed: “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, fucks like a duck, then it is a duck.”
No divorce, no freedom
The male Senatorial candidates like Sherwin Gatchalian, Miguel Zubiri and Roman Romulo echoed each other, saying that they do not believe in divorce because they believe in the sanctity of marriage.
Good for them. But their beliefs should not blind them to the fact that for many of us marriages have become mistakes we are tied down to, mistakes that spell our un-freedom.
And lest we’ve forgotten, freedom is a fundamental right.
Susan Ople tried and failed to save herself, when she said that her issue was really only with the word divorce. “I think when you say the word divorce, there’s a stigma in our culture. I want to look at it from Philippine culture. Yung Filipino values paano mo maipapasok do’n.”
But the mutual decision to separate from each other, or the decision of one party to live with another person not his wife – those are Filipino values that already exist, that might not be acceptable to many, but which is already happening on the ground. There are couples that decide quietly and calmly that they are not for each other anymore; there are men who find themselves already living in with women not their wives, and wives get over the infidelity all the time and move on.
In instances like this, what we are demanding for is really our freedom from this piece of paper that insists we are in a relationship with someone we have not seen in years, if not decades. It is in instances like this that we would like for our estranged husbands to stop using our names as tax deductions. It is in instances like this that we wish to get back our maiden names, because what is more oppressive than being a stuck with a name that’s not yours?
That piece of paper insists that I am in a relationship with a person who has not had anything to do with me the past seven years. Yet that piece of paper says nothing about my individual survival and struggle to earn my keep the past seven years. It says nothing about the happiness – his and mine – achieved separately, which certainly we both have a right to.
My right to a happy ending
All the other Senators here, other than Kapunan, had asserted annulment to be enough. They all said that the answer to the call for a divorce law should be to make the process of getting an annulment easier.
But that misses the point entirely. I do not want to have to say that the marriage never happened; and if I had a child, I wouldn’t want her to be called illegitimate by virtue of a marriage rendered null and void. I also do not want to have to invent things in order to say that either of us were psychologically incapacitated, a discovery we made only when we got married.
A no-fault divorce, as Kapunan has asserted, would mean not going through the blame game, not pinning fault on anyone. Divorce – not annulment as it is currently defined by the law – would allow for the most painless process for children, as it would allow for a calm and peaceful process of separating cleanly from one’s spouse, one’s past.
And this is the thing really that our Senatorial candidates don’t get: it’s easy to talk about marriages that work, it’s easy to imagine that sometimes all it takes is to stick it out and work through differences, and sure happy endings are fantastic. But these do not, cannot happen for everyone.
And sometimes the happiest ever after is only possible when we are freed from that piece of paper that insists we are still married, when we have ceased to be so for years and have forged a life that is productive and creative and happy without the other.
Certainly the Senators who deserve our votes are those for whom our individual happiness and freedom are all important, too?
First published in The Manila Times, January 31 2016.