‘I al­most died’: Abused Filipino women hope di­vorce will be­come le­gal

Kuwait Times - - International -

MANILA: Al­though her hus­band nearly killed her, Krista Dador can­not get a di­vorce as the Philip­pines is one of only two states - along with the Vat­i­can - with­out a di­vorce law. The pro­hib­i­tive cost of an an­nul­ment means that Dador, who has re­ceived no fi­nan­cial sup­port from her hus­band since they sep­a­rated eight years ago, is look­ing to work as a maid in the Mid­dle East, leav­ing their two chil­dren be­hind with her mother. “Some­times I want to end it all,” said the 28-year-old, who makes a liv­ing wash­ing neigh­bors’ laun­dry in a squalid part of Que­zon City, the South­east Asian coun­try’s most pop­u­lous city.

“This is a risk I’m tak­ing. I want my chil­dren to be in school be­cause I was not - and be­cause I want to earn money to pay for my an­nul­ment.” The Philip­pines took a step to­ward mak­ing di­vorce le­gal in March with the lower house of Congress pass­ing a law al­low­ing peo­ple to dis­solve mar­riages, in the face of op­po­si­tion from the pres­i­dent and bish­ops in the mainly Ro­man Catholic coun­try. Even though thou­sands of women want to end failed and abusive re­la­tion­ships, the bill is un­likely to re­ceive the sup­port it needs from the up­per house Sen­ate,

which has to draft and pass what is known as a coun­ter­part bill, cam­paign­ers said.

The only op­tion for un­happy cou­ples is to seek a le­gal sep­a­ra­tion, which does not al­low ei­ther party to re­marry, or a civil an­nul­ment, which rights groups say is lengthy and costly - as Dador found out. Mar­riage can only be an­nulled on lim­ited grounds, such as in­san­ity or con­tract­ing a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­ease. Abuse and in­fi­delity are not valid rea­sons. “I al­most died from my hus­band’s beat­ing and yet I have to con­vince the courts why I want my mar­riage dis­solved,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “The process is too te­dious.”

Only Mus­lims - about 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion - can di­vorce under Mus­lim fam­ily laws. Dador said her fam­ily forced her to marry af­ter she be­came preg­nant at the age of 18. How­ever the re­la­tion­ship de­te­ri­o­rated rapidly as he re­peat­edly abused her. Af­ter a night of non-stop beat­ings in 2010, she ran away. But vil­lage lead­ers, po­lice and other of­fi­cials have been un­able to help her end her mar­riage. Her hus­band is now with an­other woman but, from time to time, he goes to her house de­mand­ing to see their chil­dren. And they re­mained mar­ried - on pa­per at least.

Trapped

Lawyer Clara Rita Padilla said the sto­ries of women who have turned to her for help are of­ten sim­i­lar, from the mar­riage that turned abusive to a long drawn-out court process. “In many sit­u­a­tions where the fe­male files for an an­nul­ment, it takes years be­cause it was not a joint de­ci­sion and the hus­band does not co­op­er­ate,” said Padilla, who heads the women’s rights group EnGen­deRights.

A 2017 sur­vey by in­de­pen­dent poll­ster So­cial Weather Sta­tions found that 53 per­cent fa­vored le­gal­iza­tion of di­vorce in the Philip­pines, home to Asia’s largest Catholic pop­u­la­tion. The num­ber of an­nul­ment cases in­creased to more than 8,000 in 2017 from about 1,000 in 2008, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Of­fice of the Solic­i­tor Gen­eral. But Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte, who is legally sep­a­rated from his wife, op­poses mak­ing di­vorce le­gal over con­cerns for the welfare of chil­dren whose par­ents di­vorce.

The in­flu­en­tial Catholic Church said the gov­ern­ment should never of­fer di­vorce as an op­tion but use other laws to stop abuse in­stead. “We teach that mar­riage, once valid, can never be bro­ken,” said Jerome Se­cil­lano, an of­fi­cial from the Catholic Bish­ops’ Con­fer­ence of the Philip­pines, which rep­re­sents the coun­try’s Catholic lead­ers. “Pro­vid­ing for an easy sep­a­ra­tion does not help the cause of up­hold­ing and de­fend­ing mar­riage.” This means that the only Filipinos who can legally end their mar­riages are those who can are rich enough to do so.

Jour­nal­ist Mar-Vic Cagu­ran­gan said she worked day and night to raise $2,000 for her an­nul­ment, while also pay­ing her two chil­dren’s school fees. The av­er­age in­come in the Philip­pines is just over $3,500, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. “I was trapped. I didn’t have a life,” she said, adding that le­gal bat­tle took her a decade. She said court em­ploy­ees asked her for bribes to ex­pe­dite her case, mak­ing her pay 5,000 pe­sos ($96) for each hear­ing. “Be­cause I de­sired to be free, I was com­pelled to give them more,” said Cagu­ran­gan, who now lives with her boyfriend of seven years. “Ev­ery­body de­serves to be happy. Peo­ple de­serve to move on - ro­man­ti­cally, men­tally and legally.” —Reuters

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