‘Church Nullity Act’ hurdles House panel

By Zaldy De Layola

February 23, 2023, 7:00 pm

MANILA – The House Committee on Population and Family Relations on Thursday approved a bill seeking civil recognition of church annulment to make it accessible and not expensive for many Filipinos.

TINGOG Party-list Representatives Jude Acidre and Yedda Marie Romualdez authored House Bill 1593 or the Church Nullity Act of 2022 that they filed on July 7 last year.

“On behalf of Tingog Party-list, I’d like to thank the committee for its favorable action on House Bill 1593. This is a significant development that provides hope for an efficient and more affordable procedure to remedy the situation of couples trapped in an irreparable relationship,” Acidre said.

The bill has been endorsed to a technical working group (TWG) tasked to consolidate all eight related measures and craft a substitute bill.

Acidre said if the bill becomes law, a declaration of nullity (of marriage) decreed by the Church will hold as much weight and have the same effect as a civil annulment.

He added that the measure removes the burden of undergoing the civil annulment process such that Catholics who have sought annulment in the Church should not anymore be “long oppressed by the darkness of doubt” over whether their marriages, already declared null and void, should also be recognized as such by the State.

HB 1953 proposes that a marriage duly and legally solemnized by a priest, imam, rabbi, or presiding elder of an established church or religion in the Philippines which is subsequently annulled, dissolved or declared a nullity in a final judgment or decree in accordance with the canons and precepts of the church or religious sect, shall have the same effect as a decree of annulment, dissolution or declaration of nullity issued by a competent court.

“A marriage solemnized by the Church therefore should have not only canonical but civil effects as well. Priests, pastors, imams and rabbis who solemnize marriage must have the authority to solemnize granted by the State,” the bill’s explanatory note read.

The authors said the proposed measure was an offshoot of Pope Francis’ position to simplify the procedures for annulling marriages in the Catholic Church.

“If a marriage can be legitimately contracted under the laws of the Church, then it follows that under the same laws, such marriage can also be nullified or annulled,” they said, noting Pope Francis’ issuance of “Mitis Iudex Dominus lesus,” which streamlined the process of the declaration of nullity of marriage.

“The Family Code of the Philippines recognizes as valid a marriage solemnized under the laws of the Church. If marriages so solemnized are recognized by the State, it is only proper that the very church that solemnized the marriage should also have the power to rule that attendant infirmity that rendered a marriage null and its effects binding on the State. This is also the same to all other established churches and religions,” the authors explained.

Under Section 3 of the bill, “the status of children of marriages subject to a decree of annulment or declaration of nullity by the church or religious sect shall be determined in accordance with the provisions of Executive Order No. 209, otherwise known as the Family Code of the Philippines.”

In case the grounds for the church annulment or declaration of nullity are not similar to any of the grounds provided in the Family Code, their common children born or conceived before the issuance of the decree of annulment or declaration of nullity shall be considered legitimate, according to the bill.

Without prejudice to the conditions set forth by the church or religious sect, the measure also proposes that either of the former spouses may marry again after complying with the requirements provided under Section 5 and Article 52 of the Family Code, otherwise the subsequent marriage shall be null and void.

To secure a marriage license, the spouse involved must present a true certified copy of the decree of annulment or declaration of nullity issued by the church or religious sect and registered with the appropriate civil registry.

They added that under Presidential Decree No. 1083, the State recognizes divorce under the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines, which is based on Sharia, or Islamic law.

“Under the principle of equality before the law, if a Muslim divorce is recognized, there can be no serious objections towards the recognition of the civil effects of a marriage by an established and duly recognized religious denomination,” they added. (PNA)