By ELIZABETH ANGSIOCO
Ms. Angsioco is national chairperson of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines.
Hearing the President's pronouncements on divorce made me cringe. When President Benigno S. Aquino III stated that divorce in the Philippines is a no-no, but in the same breath said that those who want to remarry may just use legal separation, my initial reaction was - "Does he know that legal separation does not allow remarriage?"
The President contradicted himself and his statement may be described as confused, or perhaps, misguided. Unfortunately, Presidential pronouncements are usually taken as the administration's positions on issues and strongly influence Congress decisions. In this case, the President's message is unclear.
His statement that legal separation should be enough for couples who cannot stay together and who want to remarry reveals wrong appreciation of existing laws. Legal separation does not dissolve the marriage and only settles separation of abode, and in some cases, of properties.
Our work with women from all over the country taught me that some marriages break down, divorce or no divorce. Many times, women's decision to get out of relationships is due to abuse and violence they suffered for years and could no longer bear.
For these women, legal separation is not enough even if they do not have plans of remarrying. Reports consistently show that in this country, violence and other forms of abuse against women are primarily committed by husbands and partners, the very same people who vowed to love and protect them "till death do they part." We know of cases where even if legally separated, women are unable to escape abuse from husbands because they remain "owned" by them in marriage.
President Aquino also said that the sanctity of marriage must be protected and I agree. However, this should not be at the expense of women, particularly those who are victims of abuse.
Does the President really believe that those abused should not be given another chance at life? Would the President prefer women to suffer in silence for the sake of making it appear that their marriages are intact even if in reality, they have broken down? Mr. President, many women want to be free from abusive relationships. The goal is to get their lives back. Whether they will remarry or not is beside the point. The government, which you lead, should make possible women's freedom from abuse within marriages. Legalizing divorce will help and we hope that you will side with us on this urgent matter. We want to know if you are for or against divorce.