Bohol (3rd District) Representative Kristine Alexie Besas Tutor has filed a bill seeking to overhaul the way government and religious authorities handle annulment and marriage dissolution cases.
House Bill 9774 seeks to, among others, transfer to the Public Attorney’s Office and Department of Social Welfare and Development the roles of the Office of the Solicitor General in family law cases, specifically annulment and marriage dissolution.
The proposed Family Law Reform Act seeks to “make immediate the effect of decisions of religious authorities on annulment or dissolution of marriage cases as regards their recognition by the government,” according to Rep. Tutor, the bill’s author.
“No more lengthy court or administrative processes after the religious have rendered their decision to annul or dissolve a marriage,” she said.
Tutor added, replacing the red tape would be “fifteen days for the religious authorities, the office of the civil registrar, and the Philippine Statistics Authority to record the annulment or dissolution of marriage in the official government records.”
LARGELY FAVORABLE COMMENTS OF TWO CATHOLIC BISHOPS
The Catholic bishops of Talibon and Tagbilaran have commented on the bill, giving mostly comments acknowledging the “painful reality of invalid marriages” and “advantages” of the recognition of church annulment.
Bishop Patrick Daniel Parcon of Talibon and Bishop Alberto Uy of Tagbilaran said cited three defects of invalid marriage. They said some “what appears to be marriages” have any or a combination of three defects “from the very start (ab initio).”
The bishops said these defects of invalid marriages are: (1) defects in canonical form; (2) defects of capacity; and (3) defect of consent.
Bishops Parcon and Uy said the Tutor bill has three main advantages in its favor: (1) mercy for victims of ab initio invalid marriages; (2) access to poor couples; and (3) avoidance of unnecessary procedural duplication.
They said the one major stumbling block they see in the bill’s way is the principle of separation of Church and State.
STRENGTHS OF THE BILL
Tutor said HB 9774 provides that instead of the “Manila-based red tape of going through the OSG, this bill mandates the Public Attorney’s Office, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development to intervene and provide solutions.”
“All the cases now with the OSG are transferred to the DSWD which the bill authorizes to create a Family Relations Welfare Office, which will serve as staff support to the PAO. By involving the DSWD through the FRWO, the social services nature of Family Law cases is improved. The character of the cases is no longer tedious and contentious litigation but social welfare,” Tutor pointed out.
The bill sets a timeline of up to 360 working days for the hearing and resolution of annulment and other Family Law cases: 180 days at the Family Court and 180 days on appeal.
HB 9774 creates a Special Branch for Family Law within the PAO to handle appeals of Family Court cases, including annulment and dissolution of marriage cases.
“To address the lack of manpower, this bill authorizes a memorandum of agreement between the PAO and IBP so that the IBP can provide or assign private lawyers to work pro bono for the PAO on cases,” Tutor said.
The bill also mandates public notices and immediate notification of all third parties to annulment, legal separation, and other cases affecting the civil registry records.
“For example, formally notified of annulment and dissolution of marriage decisions are the solemnizing officer, the barangay where the parties reside, the courts, quasi-judicial bodies, and other government offices where there are related pending cases, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, and the schools of children of the parties,” Tutor explained.
“These are all third parties concerned because of related financial issues, guardianship and custody matters, and public record purposes,” she added.
HB 9774 also mandates computerization of the civil registries at the local and national levels.
“This bill also sets the goal of having physical access to civil registry services at every barangay. The initial goal is that of having civil registry field units in every congressional district,” Tutor said. (PR)