Philippine legislators file divorce bill despite objections from Catholic Church

Manila, Philippines - A bill legalising divorce has once again been filed in the Philippines which is one of only two countries in the world besides Malta that does not have a divorce law.

The country's influential Catholic Church had thwarted all previous attempts, but the women pushing for this latest divorce legislation say prospects of it being accepted are better this time.

Josephine Nueno lived with her husband for 10 years.

Throughout this time, she said there were regular beatings, long absences and numerous infidelities.

When she decided to take her children and leave him, her priest advised against it but Josephine believes it was with God's blessing.

Josephine Nueno said: "I would pray night after night for him to come home. Maybe God responded by making me come to my senses. God answered my prayers by letting my love for my husband wane, so my self-respect could return. So I could love myself instead of him."

It is for many women like Josephine that Liza Maza, a legislator from the Gabriela Women's party, filed the latest bill legalising divorce in the Philippines.

But Ms Maza says there are many people in failed marriages, not just women, that present law doesn't respond to.

Under the Philippines Family Code, only annulment restores a married couple to single status, allowing each to remarry.

But that entails proving in court that a marriage is void to begin with because of a pre-existing condition - physical or psychological - that makes one incapable of performing essential marital obligations.

In other words, marriages that were valid at the start only to break down later technically do not qualify for annulment.

Besides, it's an expensive, complicated process beyond reach for most Filipinos.

Josephine Nueno said: "Even when women are beaten and abused, we can't leave because we can't divorce!"

Congresswoman Maza says she designed her version of the bill to answer many of the traditional arguments to divorce - with enough safeguards to prevent it from becoming a common recourse.

She also points out that other bastions of Catholicism - Spain and Italy - allow divorce but have among the lowest divorce rates in the world.

Liza Maza, Gabiela Party List Representative, House of Representatives, said: "Perhaps these societies have a self-regulating mechanism. And religion is one of them. So if we really are confident of our religiosity, then why should we be afraid of divorce?"

Father Lito Jopson, Archdiocese of Pasig, said: "The Church is not really concerned with opinions or the stand of different countries. The stand of the Church is still against divorce because it is against the law of God."

Ms Maza says that despite the Catholic Church's objections, popular opinion will push the bill through Congress.

Though probably not soon.

Liza Maza said: "We are prepared for a long fight. Gabriela is an organisation that is not known for backing out from struggles."

But a struggle it will no doubt be.

Not just to overcome the Church's influence on the state but to convince more lawmakers that Filipinos want and need to get divorce.