Simplifying the Path to Annulment

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC
Tags: philippine constitution,Philippine ConstitutionSimplifying the path to annulment,Simplifying the path to annulmentphilippine constitution Philippine Constitution
MANILA, Philippines - For couples desperate to find a way out of their troubled marriages, annulment is a trying and tedious legal process. Aside from being weighed down by the difficulty of proving the psychological incapacity of either spouse, they also have to incur many expenses: the cost of litigation, filing fees, and even the professional fees of psychologists and psychiatrists.

House Bill 3952, "An Act Recognizing Spousal Violence, Infidelity and Abandonment as Presumptive Psychological Incapacity Constituting a Ground for the Annulment of Marriage", hopes to make annulment more accessible even to poor couples.

Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, who authored the measure, said HB 3952, which seeks to simplify the annulment process, offers couples an easier and less expensive way out.

Under HB 3952, infidelity, abandonment or spousal violence are presumed indications of psychological incapacity. In effect, psychological incapacity would be easier to prove, and the annulment process would take less time and money to complete.

"Pag na-prove mo na may violence or infidelity, may presumption agad na that is equated to psychological incapacity which should result in the nullification of the marriage," Colmenares said in an interview on "The Rundown" on Tuesday.

Under the measure, Colmenares said, adding the presumption of psychological incapacity under Article 36 would reduce the length of the proceedings, and cut expenses like professional fees for psychiatrists or psychologists.

Is divorce the better option?

But Atty. Evalyn Ursua disagrees.

"Sabihin natin may presumption 'yung batas. Pwede i-dispute by presenting contrary evidence," Ursua said during the same interview.

While the objective of the bill is laudable, Ursua, an advocate of women's and children's rights, said presumption, which would remove the need for psychiatrists, would not necessarily solve the problem of cost or accessibility as the legal process itself could be long-drawn. She said such changes won't matter much as the bill will not change the legal standards set by the Supreme Court.

"Problema ko sa bill mismo, hindi niya binabago 'yung legal standards na si-net ng Supreme Court. Nagke-create siya ng presumption na 'pag ito napatunayan mo, any of the three (conditions), psychological incapacity 'yun. But we have to remember, disputable presumption iyon," she said.

Ursua explained that the high court currently requires 3 things: antecedence (which states that incapacity existed before the marriage), seriousness, and incurability (which is often supported by expert testimony).

In light of such deficiencies in the measure, Ursua added that the annulment process could be shortened by improving the bill, beginning with defining psychological incapacity, changing existing legal standards, and adding consistent refusal rather than mere incapacity as a condition.

"We can define psychological incapacity to do away clearly with the requirement of psychiatric of psychological evidence and change the standards of SC. Say you have to prove inability to perform the marital obligations, not refusal.

"Other legislators might object to this and say this might be worse than a straightforward divorce law kasi parang nagpre-present na psychological incapacity pero mas mababa hinihingi niya. Ang sinasabi namin, 'wag na tayo maglokohan," she said.

Calling Article 36 a "pseudo-divorce law" because of the intellectual dishonesty involved, Ursua said divorce--which is not allowed in the Philippines--may be the better legal option.

"I think there should be a divorce law. I'm for a law that says we can terminate a marriage. Let's not hide behind psychological incapacity.

"If we run a survey, the Filipino people are ready for a divorce law and legislators should listen. This view that we shouldn't have a divorce law is an antiquated view and doesn't address realities," Ursua explained.

Ursua added that legal fees can be reduced to improve accessibility to annulment.

"I suggest we make legal representation more accessible through the Public Attorney's Office," Ursua said.

She added that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines is making rules on free legal assistance which may help address the issue of expensive legal processes.

Aside from Malta, the Philippines is among the last few countries left without a divorce law, according to Ursua.

Catholic church reacts

But instead of pushing for a measure that dissolves marriages, some church leaders say lawmakers may be better off supporting bills that would protect the family unit.

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles said in an interview on ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda", "Ang problema dun sa pino-propose ni Congressman (Colmenares) at other bills similar to that ay [these are] leading to divorce. 'Yung sa bills ni Congressman, we are promoting na masira 'yung family. Why don't we create bills that will preserve the family?"

"They (married couples) should not cover a mistake by another mistake, na 'pag nagkamali, you have to live up to your mistake. Nag-asawa kayo, later on naging taksil. Sa Catholicism, we have to live rightly. 'Yun ang righteousness kaya try your best," he said.

Arguelles lamented how marriage has become trivial in countries like the United States which allow divorce, with separation rates rising from 10% in 1968 to 90% today.