Philippines debates divorce law change

A couple holds hands showing their wedding rings during a wedding in Manila The bill is likely to face a tough challenge from Congress and the powerful Catholic Church

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A congressional committee in the Philippines is due to start discussing a bill to legalise divorce.

The Philippines and the Vatican are now the only places in the world where divorce is prohibited, after Malta voted to remove its ban last weekend.

But the passage of this bill is far from certain, as the influential Catholic Church is fiercely opposed to any change in the law.

Divorce now joins contraception as an issue of deep dispute with the church.

Inspired by the referendum in Malta, a panel from the House of Representatives is meeting to try to revive a divorce bill which has been languishing in Congressional files for years.

One of the bill's authors, congresswoman Luz Ilagan, said the Philippines was ready for a change in the law, and should not be kept "in the dark ages" any more.

But she is facing tough opponents.

The vast majority of Filipinos are Catholic, and the church is extremely powerful.

Rich and poor

One archbishop recently said that divorce was "anti-Filipino," while another said he would strongly oppose "any attempt to introduce it" in the Philippines.

The Church is already fighting a separate battle with Congress about a bill on reproductive health, which proposes giving everyone free access to contraceptives.

Divorce is set to be yet another issue where the leaders of the church and many of the country's lawmakers profoundly disagree.

A bill has also been put forward in the Philippine Congress aimed at making it easier for poor people to get their marriages annulled.

The bill would make violence, infidelity and abandonment all grounds for annulment.

Annulments are currently too expensive for anyone but the rich to contemplate - so that while poor people can be trapped for years in abusive marriages, it is not uncommon for the rich to have more than one marriage annulled.

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