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Rep. Joel Chua, lone Manila solon who voted for divorce bill

Joel Chua
Rep.Chua explains his vote, being the only Manila Congressman who favored the divorce bill. (JERRY S. TAN)

MANILA third district Congressman Joel Chua said he voted his conscience when he voted for the divorce bill and became the only Manila Representative who had done so.

Chua expressed firm belief that voting on the divorce bill should not be based on religion and that inclusivity must be paramount when making decisions especially about governance because governance is not about religion but what is right and just for everyone.

“We should give our people choices. Lack of choices is another form of poverty. Happiness is a right everyone should enjoy.,” Chua said, adding that he also considered that hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have been wed in civil rites and have had no church weddings and that ‘neither can I vote to exclude divorce from among the options they can exercise when they deem it necessary. My role is in our society is to give the options.’

“Philippine society is made up of different faiths and cultures. We do not have a state religion because that runs counter to what democracy is. We have freedom of religion and nondiscrimination based on religious beliefs enshrined in our Constitution and laws. I cannot impose my Catholic beliefs on anyone else because faith is a matter of personal, individual choice in a democratic society,” Chua said.

The Congressman also said he recognizes that many Filipinos are not Catholics, not Christians and some even allow marriage to more than one wife or divorce any of their wives based on their religion or customs, adding he cannot impose his beliefs about marriage and divorce on them but that as a public servant involved in governance, he cannot in conscience participate in denying them the option of divorce when it is their choice to avail of it.

“As an advocate of our society’s laws, those same laws require that I respect and enforce the civil rights and due process inherently deserved by every citizen, including spouses and their children trapped and held hostage in marriages that have collapsed beyond repair and threaten death or serious injury to them,” he underscored.

“Some have argued that the options of legal separation and annulment are available, therefore there is no need for a divorce law. My retort to that is: Justice delayed is justice denied. By the time those options reach their conclusions, irreparable damage has been inflicted on the abused spouse or both spouses, and/or on their children,” he added.

“Even if the injurious costs are removed, the red tape of legal separation and annulment are ridiculous and sadistic upon the aggrieved spouses and children. The implementers of legal separation and annulment can, without the need for new laws, adopt rules that erase or cast aside those costs and red tape. But they choose not to, because it is in their interest to keep those costs and red tape in place, in utter disregard of the suffering of the aggrieved spouses and children. In other words, the system is rigged against spouses and children in anguish. That is not how a just society must be toward its citizens,” Chua explained.

He further underscored that another neglected aspect of the Family Code concerns common law marriages, saying our laws and customs have long recognized common law marriages but that the Family Code does not have explicit mechanisms and procedures formally recognize common law spouses and there is no registration process.

“Without these workings of the law, common law spouses are not really married. In fact, most of them still consider themselves single because they did not go through any marriage rites. In the process, they are unable to claim rights and benefits due to married spouses. Barangays and Katarungang Pambarangay or Barangay Justice System have no role in the enforcement of the Family Code. The barangay is the government closest to the people, yet when it comes to the matters about marriage, domestic violence, violence against women and children, the Family Code is beyond their reach and barangays cannot enforce the Family Code because they are excluded from it,” Chua pointed out.

“By some accounts, there are five senators for divorce and five senators against divorce. Let us assume for the sake of argument that count is accurate. There are 24 senators. Twenty-four minus ten equals 14. Only 13 votes are needed for the divorce bill to pass in the Senate. Thirteen minus five equals eight, Only 8 more votes are needed to make the 5 become 13. Convincing eight more senators to vote for the divorce bill is a doable or viable proposition,” he said.

Chua added: “But time is not on the side of the divorce bill because only one regular session remains in the 19th Congress. Those against divorce in the Senate can simply delay action or sit on the bill. Some might be thinking they can “kick the can” down the road, so that it will be up to the 20th Congress to tackle it. But that means the divorce bill will go back to square one.”

“Even if by some miracle, the Senate passes the divorce bill by the slimmest of margins, pro-divorce legislators have the specter of the veto power in the hands of the President. The same people who have been against the divorce bill will plead to the President to veto the divorce bill. Trusting in the fairness of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, I believe those who are pro-divorce will be heard in Malacanang. It will be ultimately up to him whether the divorce bill becomes law or not. He has at least three choices. He can veto it, sign it, or let it lapse into law thirty days after his office receives the approved bill from Congress,” Chua said in closing.

Itchie G. Cabayan
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