Father Ranhilio Aquino (center) is seen during a graduation ceremony at San Beda University (Photo supplied)

By Joseph Peter Calleja

July 15 2022

Father Ranhilio Aquino has hit out at lawmaker Edcel Lagman for refiling the bill and reigniting debate on divorce.

The dean of one of the top law schools in the Philippines has urged lawmakers to drop a pending divorce bill insisting that it violates the sanctity of marriage.

Catholic priest Father Ranhilio Aquino, the dean of Benedictine-run San Beda Graduate School of Law, hit out at lawmaker Edcel Lagman on July 12, for refiling the bill and reigniting the debate on divorce in the Philippines.

“Edcel Lagman, who has made himself notorious for advocating measures diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching, is at it again. He has reignited the divorce debate by filing a bill in Congress that would allow divorce into the Philippine legal system. The paramount question, therefore, is whether we need it!” Father Aquino wrote on Facebook.

Father Aquino said there was no need to pass a divorce law if the reason alone is that the Philippines is the only country in Asia with no divorce law.

“If the most ‘compelling’ argument is that we are the only jurisdiction that does not have it [divorce], the (non) argument is pathetic. It is nothing more than a perpetuation of the “gaya-gaya” [copycat] syndrome, or the sickening mantra today: “Sana all!”[I hope all],” Father Aquino said.

“It is also argued by its proponents that divorce rescues the partners of failed marriages, trapped in a loveless, perhaps even harmful union. But we have laws that amply provide for such situations,” said the priest, a respected jurist and legal scholar.

Father Aquino said divorce could be opposed by not resorting to theological or religious grounds but by the use of legal reasoning.

“Notice that I have not used theological or ecclesial arguments: no quotations from Scripture, no citations from Church doctrine. My point is clear: On the basis of rational thought, divorce does not seem to be a reasonable position,” he said.

The priest said that present laws were sufficient to cure dysfunctional or abusive marriages, thus, there is no need for divorce.

“If it is the safety of one spouse that is the concern owing to the abusive conduct of the other, the rules on legal separation can be invoked. Women and their children who are victims of domestic violence have a safe harbor that allows a woman facing threats or attempts at violence from an abusive partner or spouse to seek immediate protection orders,” he said.

Present laws allow a woman and her child to seek a protection order from the court or in their local community to stop the abusive spouse from going near them for a number of days.

The real purpose of divorce is to enable partners who have failed at marriage a second chance at it, with new partners. In other words, it is betting that they will succeed when given a second chance, Father Aquino said.

Father Aquino said the children are the true victims of divorce, not the couple themselves.

“… marriage involves others. There are the children who are the very first victims of divorce, for no matter what its advocates say, the loss of a parent when the marriage vinculum is sundered is a traumatic experience for any child,” he said.

Catholic supporters of the bill, however, said clergymen opposing the divorce bill could never understand what is meant to be in an abusive relationship because they themselves were not married.

“It’s easy for any priest to say that marriage should be preserved. But the truth remains that priests are not even married so they will never know how it is to live with someone who is so abusive. They really wouldn’t understand,” a Catholic from Manila, who wished to remain anonymous, told UCA News.

He likewise said that legal separation and other legal remedies were “expensive” that only the rich could afford.

“Legal separation and a case for declaration of nullity of marriage is tedious and involves a lot of money because there is a presumption on the validity of marriage. But if there is divorce law, the law on divorce erases that presumption,” he added.