The Philippines is the only country in the world — besides Vatican City, the city-state of the Roman Catholic Church — where divorce is illegal.
Lawmakers are working to change that.
The Philippine Senate is back in session this week, and it’s considering a bill that would legalize divorce. The country’s House of Representatives approved the bill back in March.
But it’s far from a guarantee. Most Filipinos remain split on the issue. A special report from March found that 53 percent of Filipinos are in favor of legalizing divorce, with 32 percent against it, and 15 percent undecided.
There are two other major obstacles: President Rodrigo Duterte and the Catholic Church.
Thus far, Duterte has dodged questions about his stance on the issue, though his spokesperson said he’s against divorce. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has been pulling out all the stops.
Congresswomen Pia Cayetano, one of the authors of the new bill, said the Church’s influence is the main reason why divorce still isn’t legal. She worries the powerful religious organization will go all out to keep it that way.
She felt the Church’s wrath in 2012, when she voted for a bill that allowed free access to contraception.
“My name was mentioned in Church as you know whatever messenger of the demon.” Cayetano recalls. “We have a very strong and influential Catholic Church and a lot of politicians, a lot of legislators tend to be concerned about what views the Church has.”
The Philippines remains a deeply Catholic country — more than 80 percent of the population identify as Catholic, and many rely on it for education and social services.
”Are we behind the times or are we holding on to what is right?”
Bishop Broderick Pabillo is one member of the clergy who believes that divorce should not be legal under any circumstance. Instead, he’s encouraging couples to attend counseling, ahead of last resort options like legal separation and annulments.
“Are we behind the times or are we holding on to what is right?” Pabillo told VICE News. “You can leave them legally, but don’t get married again… because you made yourself that promise.”
This segment originally aired May 17, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.